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Ravens hoping to begin gaining clarity with position battles next week

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to see business pick up next week as it pertains to their starting position battles.

Not only will they play their first preseason game against Jacksonville next Thursday, but the Jaguars arrive in Owings Mills Monday for the first of two joint practices that should ratchet up the competition level. To this point, the Ravens haven’t gained much clarity at outside linebacker or left guard, two of their biggest question marks entering the 2019 season.

Veteran Pernell McPhee has lined up as the rush linebacker opposite strong-side outside linebacker Matthew Judon for the first-team base defense, but McPhee has always been more effective as a rotational player ideally moving inside to rush in passing situations. You hope the 30-year-old receiving the early honors is more a sign of respect and a motivational tactic for younger options, but 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, free-agent newcomer Shane Ray, and rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson haven’t consistently stood out beyond the flash play here or there. There’s also the important question of how effectively these unproven options will set the edge against the run, which remained an underrated part of former Raven Terrell Suggs’ game even in his later years.

“When we get into the games, the actual preseason games, you’ll have better questions and I’ll have better answers for you on the pass rushers,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “But I love the way we’re competing. I love how fast we are.”

The competition at left guard has been even more disconcerting with injuries and conditioning concerns muddying the waters. Fourth-year lineman Alex Lewis has yet to practice as he works his way back to full strength from offseason shoulder surgery while third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor — who surprisingly lined up as the starter throughout spring workouts — has missed at least part of four camp practices due to minor injury or conditioning concerns.

Rookie Ben Powers received most of first-team reps over the first week , but that appeared to be more a result of attrition than the talented fourth-round pick from Oklahoma being overly advanced in his development. In a perfect world, Powers would win the job since he has the most upside — and team control — of the aforementioned options, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer a glowing endorsement when asked about the rookie working so much with the first team in the early days of camp.

“We don’t have a starter there. Who would you want me to put in there? He’s the guy right now,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “Jermaine has to get in shape still more, and those guys are competing along with James Hurst. James Hurst knows how to play the position, so we’re giving those younger guys the reps. We’ll see what happens.”

The Ravens gave Eluemunor another opportunity with the first team on Friday, but the 2017 fifth-round pick responded with two early false starts that resulted in him being forced to run laps as pre-snap penalties continue to plague the offense early in camp. Lewis remains the wild card if he returns to practice in the coming days as Harbaugh previously indicated an early August return for the oft-injured 2016 fourth-round pick who’s started 18 games in his career.

The position that’s gained the most clarity is inside linebacker where former undrafted free agent Chris Board has worked as the clear-cut starter next to Patrick Onwuasor. Martindale confirmed Board is ahead of 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young for the starting weak-side spot, but defensive back Anthony Levine also factors into that spot when the Ravens move into their dime package. Board appeared to receive more first-team reps in the position’s timeshare during spring workouts, but he’s taken virtually all base and nickel reps with Young relegated to the second team since the start of camp.

“He had a great offseason, and we challenged him on the things he needed to improve on and he went to work,” said linebackers coach Mike Macdonald about Board, who played more outside linebacker at North Dakota State. “He bulked up with some muscle and kept all his speed. He’s hammered out the playbook. He has a really good command of what we’re asking him to do, communicates well, and then when you turn the tape on, his speed is just hard to ignore.”

The next test for Board or any other unproven player vying for a starting position will come against the Jaguars as the Ravens will compete against someone other than themselves for the first time in 2019. The transition from spring workouts in shorts to training camp practices in full pads is always the first separator in competitions, but the coming week provides another checkpoint as coaches watch closely to see how young players handle live-game settings in August.

There’s still more than a month to go until the season opener in Miami, but the Ravens would love to begin gaining more clarity at these positions.

“You’d like for it to happen naturally and to be clear. That’s what you’d like,” said Harbaugh specifically about the offensive line. “You don’t want it to be clear because nobody is taking the reins. You want somebody to take the reins. Now, if more guys take the reins and make it tough on us, that would be even better. But we’re not there yet.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first five camp practices

Posted on 30 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying their first day off from training camp and still more than a week away from the preseason opener, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I wrote about Lamar Jackson the other day, but one topic I didn’t address was ball security after he led the NFL in fumbles last season. Correcting that is critical, but his fumbling problems really only showed up in games, making it difficult to gauge progress there thus far.

2. Brandon Carr played some nickel filling in for Tavon Young at times last year, but he’s received plenty of reps at safety in camp. The 33-year-old admits his “head spins sometimes” playing multiple positions, but that versatility will be valuable to this secondary and for him extending his career.

3. There’s been no shortage of praise for Miles Boykin, who’s made plays against the starting defense and was even compared to a young Michael Thomas by Willie Snead. He’s looked good, but pumping the brakes on the hype until the first couple preseason games would be wise. It’s still early.

4. I remain more bullish on Mark Andrews, who has been the best pass catcher on the field and is playing with some attitude and swagger. Given the structure of this offense and Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle, Andrews could really take off after a promising rookie year.

5. Wink Martindale praised Pernell McPhee for his early play and bringing “that old Raven rough, tough mentality” to the outside linebackers, but this position remains a concern. Tim Williams has flashed a little — he’s done that in previous summers — but the rest of the group has been quiet.

6. After starting the final 10 games last season and serving as the starting right tackle all spring, Orlando Brown Jr. has worked with the second team since missing the first full-squad workout with a failed conditioning test. I understand sending a message, but four practices seems sufficient.

7. Jermaine Eluemunor missed the first practice after failing the conditioning test, which came after John Harbaugh wanted him to be in better shape in the spring. Perceived as a quiet favorite to play left guard, Eluemunor has also missed two practices with a muscle issue. He’s squandering early opportunities.

8. We expected a competition between Chris Board and Kenny Young at inside linebacker, but Board has taken virtually all first-team reps next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base and nickel packages. Young isn’t practicing poorly, but he’s clearly third behind Board and Anthony Levine when considering Baltimore’s frequent dime usage.

9. Two early concerns continue to be frequent pre-snap penalties and bad snaps from the centers. The precision required to run such a unique offense can’t be overstated — even in July. As Greg Roman described the many false starts, “It’s hard to turn that lemon into lemonade when you jump.”

10. With the Ravens enjoying the deepest secondary in the NFL, it’s easy to forget about guys further down the depth chart, but Chuck Clark and Maurice Canady have practiced well. DeShon Elliott received much hype for his spring play, but Clark has been steadier early in camp.

11. Seth Roberts has quietly had a solid start to camp, showing some chemistry with Jackson on shorter passes. He’s not spectacular and had a history of drops in Oakland, but he’d go into my top three wide receivers with Willie Snead and Boykin instead of Chris Moore so far.

12. The Robert Griffin III injury isn’t ideal, but Trace McSorley should continue receiving more reps behind Jackson, especially with Josh Johnson declining an offer and journeyman Joe Callahan signing instead. McSorley has a huge opportunity to prove he’s deserving of a 53-man roster spot. He’s held up OK so far.

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With Griffin sidelined, Ravens sign quarterback Joe Callahan

Posted on 29 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With Robert Griffin III expected to miss the preseason with a thumb injury, the Ravens have added another healthy quarterback to their 90-man roster with the signing of journeyman Joe Callahan.

According to NFL Network, Baltimore had offered veteran quarterback Josh Johnson a contract, but the 33-year-old declined with the Ravens optimistic that Griffin will be ready for the regular-season opener on Sept. 8. Johnson spent the 2016 preseason with the Ravens and starter three games for Washington last season.

Coached by Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J. in 2008, Callahan, 26, has attempted only seven NFL passes and has spent time with five other teams in his career. His lone regular-season game came with Green Bay in 2017 when he went 5-for-7 for 11 yards, but the Ravens needed a healthy quarterback to share practice reps and preseason snaps with starter Lamar Jackson and rookie sixth-round pick Trace McSorley.

The 2016 undrafted free agent from Division III Wesley has also spent time with New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay.

The Ravens waived outside linebacker Markus Jones to make room for Callahan on the 90-man roster.

Practicing for a fifth straight day before Tuesday’s respite, the Ravens were again without slot cornerback Tavon Young and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, who both appeared to be laboring during Saturday’s stadium practice and have missed back-to-back workouts.

“They’re just minor. It’s muscle issues that they have to get right,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I kind of expect them both back after the day off, but we’ll see.”

Safety Earl Thomas and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee appeared to receive a veteran day while offensive lineman Randin Crecelius missed his second straight practice Monday. Wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot) remains on the non-football injury list, and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is still on the physically unable to perform list.

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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: Outside linebackers

Posted on 23 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning Thursday 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.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line
Inside linebackers
Wide receivers

We continue at outside linebacker, a position entering uncharted territory in 2019. For the first time in their history, the Ravens do not have an outside linebacker on the roster whom the organization drafted in the first round as Terrell Suggs was selected in 2003, Peter Boulware in 1997, and draft bust Craig Powell in 1995. With Suggs and Za’Darius Smith departing as free agents in March, Baltimore lost its career sacks leader and its top quarterback takedown man in 2018 as the pair combined for 15 1/2 sacks last season. Replacing that combination of experience and production won’t be easy, even if the Ravens were wise not to match the contracts each veteran fetched on the open market.

General manager Eric DeCosta is counting on a very deep secondary — where many more resources have been invested — to help pick up the slack as the Ravens need some combination of unproven youngsters and veteran reclamation projects to step up at outside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will also need to build upon his creativity from last season when the Ravens frequently used deception and exotic looks to get after opposing quarterbacks. Even acknowledging those factors, outside linebacker is a very real question mark for a defense whose expectations remain very high after finishing first in the NFL in yards allowed last season.

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

The Man — Matthew Judon
Skinny: The 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State has been more solid than spectacular with 19 sacks over his first three years, but he took his game to another level down the stretch last season and finished 24th in pass rush grade among qualified edge defenders by Pro Football Focus, a career best. Strong against the run, capable in coverage, and seemingly still ascending as a rusher, Judon is entering a contract year and is the most complete outside linebacker on the roster. A strong 2019 would put him in position for a big free-agent payday, and Baltimore needs him to step up more than ever.

Old Reliable — Judon
Skinny: At first glance, Pernell McPhee might be the choice here as the only outside linebacker on the roster older than 26, but he had more missed games (15) than sacks (14) in his four seasons after leaving the Ravens to sign a lucrative contract with Chicago in 2014 and hasn’t registered a quarterback sack in his last 19 regular-season games. Judon has never missed a game due to injury in his career — he was a healthy scratch twice as a rookie — and also plays some special teams, making him pretty darn reliable.

Under Fire — Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams
Skinny: There are no more excuses for the 2017 second- and third-round picks who combined to play just 281 defensive snaps in their second season. With Suggs and Smith no longer in the rotation, there is an abundance of snaps to be won with their competition being a third-round rookie and two veterans who combined for one sack last season. The pair having totaled 5 1/2 sacks in 567 career snaps shows they have ability, but the two must prove in practices and games that they’re ready for meaningful roles.

Up-and-Comer — Jaylon Ferguson
Skinny: There was something fitting about the Ravens drafting the Louisiana Tech product after he broke Suggs’ Division I career sacks record, but Ferguson will need to develop quickly going from Conference USA to the NFL. Trying to gauge his progress in non-contact workouts this spring wasn’t easy since the 6-foot-5, 275-pound edge rusher is known primarily for his bull rush and physicality, but Ferguson will have his chance to shine and earn immediate snaps as a situational rusher if worthy.

Sleeper — Shane Ray
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick appeared on his way to being a strong bookend for All-Pro linebacker Von Miller with eight sacks and 45 pressures in his second season in Denver, but chronic wrist problems have all but derailed his career as Ray collected just two sacks in 19 games over the last two years. Strong hands are critical to a pass rusher’s success, so there’s no diminishing the role of the wrist injuries in his decline. If Ray is finally healthy, however, a $1.2 million flier could be a steal for someone still just 26.

The Rest — Pernell McPhee, Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Mike Onuoha
Skinny: If kept on a proper snap count to keep him fresh, McPhee is still capable of being disruptive and registered the best pass-rushing grade from PFF of any current Baltimore edge defender in 2018, albeit in just 203 snaps. The Ravens would prefer to use him as an interior rusher in passing situations like they did with Smith. … The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Adeoye previously played in the Alliance of American Football for the Birmingham Iron and in The Spring League.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens roster after mandatory minicamp

Posted on 19 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players until the end of the preseason, but the conclusion of mandatory minicamp offers a much better idea of what the coaching staff has to work with in 2019.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance to the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is still based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than observations from a handful of non-contact practices this spring. For now, I estimate 44 players to be safely on the roster, leaving nine spots up for grabs. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand starting with the snap distribution when training camp begins next month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who is deemed a bubble player now as much will change between now and even the start of preseason action. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying so much talent that could fall victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. You always look 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 individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: McSorley showed growth over the course of the spring and should feel much better about his chances, but I’m not quite ready to say he’ll definitely be on the roster when you look at the logjam at some other positions. I’d still expect a fourth quarterback to be added to share the summer reps.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Little has changed with this position group, but Ervin’s return ability at least puts him on the radar to potentially steal a spot. Dixon took issue with how his absences from voluntary workouts were perceived, but he needs a strong and healthy preseason to stick in the final year of his rookie deal.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, Michael Floyd
LONG SHOT: Sean Modster, Antoine Wesley, Quincy Adeboyejo, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott, Modster, and Wesley flashed during workouts, but this group looked very ordinary overall, which wasn’t a big surprise as Brown and Boykin were sidelined. The numbers game will be interesting as you wonder how many receivers the run-heavy Ravens will even feel compelled to keep.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: Charles Scarff
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman
Skinny: Knowing how much offensive coordinator Greg Roman values this position, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fourth tight end with blocking ability stick with the 249-pound Scarff having the current edge. However, the Ravens could also use the versatile Patrick Ricard in that role.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Alex Lewis, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Eluemunor lining up as the starting left guard this spring was surprising, but Harbaugh saying his conditioning needs to improve keeps me from moving him to the “in” line just yet. Lewis missing the spring program while rehabbing his shoulder on his own leaves him with much to prove.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Sieler is probably safe because of the shortage of 5-technique options on the roster, but Willis is an interesting name to watch as a rookie free agent. Ricard’s ability to play on both sides of the ball always improves his roster chances, but he was a healthy scratch for the final six games last season.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: There is very little clarity in this group beyond the top three, but you would think the Ravens prefer keeping at least one more inside linebacker. Any lingering doubt about Board’s status was erased this spring as he arguably moved ahead of Young in the competition to start next to Onwuasor.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Pernell McPhee, Shane Ray, Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Bowser’s ability to drop into pass coverage gives him an edge over the other outside linebackers vying for a roster spot, but McPhee being able to slide inside in sub packages really helps his chances. Ray flashed during the spring, but the proof will be when the pads come on.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Barring injuries, Baltimore is almost guaranteed to lose a quality player or two from this group. However, I’m not buying Bethel being on the bubble after the Ravens gave him a $1 million bonus and took a compensatory pick formula hit to sign him despite their established depth here.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: The standout play of Elliott was one of the highlights of the spring as he showed impressive range in coverage to go with the physicality he flashed as a rookie last summer. Clark is a rock-solid backup entering his third season, but could the roster crunch at other positions squeeze him out?

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: Vedvik really struggled with his kicking accuracy during spring practices open to reporters and will need to rebound in the preseason to build his potential trade value.

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New Ravens safety Thomas “in the right spots” at this week’s OTAs

Posted on 30 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens safety Earl Thomas returned to an NFL practice field this week for the first time since a fractured lower left leg abruptly ended his nine-year run with Seattle last September.

The six-time Pro Bowl selection has taken part in this week’s voluntary organized team activities and has already made a strong impression with head coach John Harbaugh. Thomas, 30, will not only patrol center field for what could be the NFL’s best and deepest secondary, but his leadership will be needed to help fill the void of departed defensive veterans Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley.

The former Seahawk showed aggressiveness during his full-team reps, nearly colliding with slot receiver Willie Snead on one play in a non-contact session. Thomas is practicing with a compression sleeve on his left leg, which had a rod placed in it last October after his tibia was fractured for the second time in three seasons. That injury didn’t stop the Ravens from signing Thomas to a four-year, $55 million contract in March.

“He’s had a great week. He’s looked really good,” Harbaugh said. “Great anticipation, and then great ability to cover ground. He shows up in the right spots on a regular basis, so to me, that’s what great safeties do, and he’s doing a great job.”

Thomas wasn’t the only veteran present for Thursday’s voluntary workout after not taking part in last week’s practice open to reporters as cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Williams were also participating. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle), cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Cyrus Jones (illness), outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Gerald Willis, and inside linebackers Alvin Jones and Otaro Alaka were not taking part.

Rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) remain sidelined for health-related reasons while guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, and running back Kenneth Dixon were other offensive players absent from the practice field Thursday.

Slot receiver Willie Snead was practicing with a red non-contact vest over his practice jersey, a precautionary measure stemming from finger surgery earlier this offseason. His activity level was ramped up Thursday after he participated in only the first half of last week’s workout open to reporters. Harbaugh quipped that the red jersey was the compromise from needing to lock Snead in the locker room to keep him off the field for what are still only voluntary sessions.

The youthfulness of the wide receiver group — and the offense as a whole — has made Snead’s presence on the field more important, according to the 26-year-old who’s only in his fifth season himself.

“I feel like my role on this team has grown a little bit more — not as a No. 1 receiver, but as a leader on the team,” said Snead, who also lost 10 pounds this offseason to try to improve his speed. “I definitely just wanted to be here with the guys and grow with the guys and learn the offense as they learned it. Just still be around the guys, bring that energy, bring that life, and just continue to get better.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first week of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ first week of organized team activities in the books, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Making any bold proclamations after one spring practice is irresponsible, but Lamar Jackson showed more oomph with his intermediate passes, especially early in the session. His consistency waned over the final 45 minutes, however, with a few too many inaccurate and wobbly throws. Remember he’s also learning a revamped offense.

2. Being cautious with Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) is the obvious right call, but they can’t have too many reps with Jackson if they’re to make a meaningful impact as rookies. As we saw with Breshad Perriman, injuries can quickly torpedo expectations for a young wide receiver.

3. The competition at outside linebacker will receive more attention, but the likes of Willie Henry, Zach Sieler, and Pernell McPhee serving as viable interior rushers will be nearly as critical. Sieler is one to watch after he stuck on the 53-man roster all last season despite being active only twice.

4. Many seemed ready to write off Tyus Bowser or suggest he move to inside linebacker after the McPhee and Shane Ray signings, but the shortage of “Sam” outside linebackers capable of dropping into coverage keeps him in good position from a roster standpoint. The pressure is still on, of course.

5. While Kenneth Dixon skipped Thursday’s OTA, Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner appeared to be in great shape as both looked leaner. It’s been mentioned before, but Turner was promoted to the 53-man roster a full month before Edwards was elevated last year.

6. Several defensive veterans exercised their right to not attend the voluntary workout, but Brandon Carr was present and working just days after his 33rd birthday. Father Time will eventually catch up, but his rock-solid play and understated leadership have made his 2017 signing a very good one.

7. New wide receivers coach and passing coordinator David Culley has immediately become one of John Harbaugh’s most vocal assistants as you hear him offering praise or blunt criticism for Ravens wide receivers. It’s quite a contrast from the quieter Bobby Engram, who is now coaching the tight ends.

8. Asked about his 2019 goals, Marlon Humphrey said he’s interested in “anything that ends with a ‘Bowl.’ It might be a stretch to envision this team in transition winning the Super Bowl this year, but I’m expecting Humphrey to make his first Pro Bowl as long as he stays healthy.

9. Jaylen Smith and Joe Horn Jr. have received attention as undrafted rookie receivers for obvious reasons, but 6-foot-4 Texas Tech product Antoine Wesley flashed multiple times Thursday, including when he caught a long bomb from Robert Griffin III. He lacks great speed, but you like the height.

10. That praise aside, please spare me the narrative of there being so much competition at wide receiver for one year, especially with an offense that so highly values the running game and tight ends. I’ve heard it — and sometimes fallen for it — too many times in the past.

11. Reports have linked six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to the Ravens, but it’s tough seeing a financial fit if he’s receiving offers as high as $11 million per year from interested teams. The 31-year-old has collected five or more sacks in seven straight seasons, however.

12. I don’t want to make too much out of it, but Jackson saying he came into the spring not knowing the Ravens would have “a totally different offense” was odd after rebuilding the system “from the ground up” was such a strong talking point this offseason.

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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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Five Ravens questions for start of organized team activities

Posted on 20 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s practice to the media, below are five questions on the defending AFC North champions in late May:

1. How will Lamar Jackson look passing the ball?

There’s no shortage of unknowns about the Ravens as they attempt to win back-to-back division titles for the first time since 2011 and 2012, but Jackson’s greatest supporters and toughest critics agree his development as a passer entering his first full season as the starter tops the priority list. He again worked on his mechanics and footwork with high school coach Joshua Harris and threw to Ravens wide receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith in Florida, but OTAs will offer a glimpse at the strides he’s made. Team-produced highlight videos and public comments from coaches and teammates will be all positive, of course, but media will be permitted to watch three OTA workouts ahead of Baltimore’s mandatory three-day minicamp in mid-June. That’s not to say reporters will — or should — overreact to every rep, but more consistency is needed on a throw-to-throw basis, especially on out-breaking routes. How Jackson throws in spring practices will only tell so much, but it’s more than we know now after an offseason full of speculation, debate, and, in some cases, mindless hot takes about the quarterback’s abilities.

2. How will an uncertain linebacker picture start to take shape?

A 23-year-old franchise that’s reaped the benefits of seven different linebackers making a combined 33 Pro Bowls has never had a cloudier situation following the departures of Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. There’s no shortage of competition at outside linebacker with recent free-agent arrivals Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray competing with rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams for playing time opposite veteran starter Matthew Judon. However, general manager Eric DeCosta has yet to add a notable inside linebacker in the quest to replace Mosley, leaving former weak-side platoon partners Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young as de facto starters. We’re a long way from any decisions needing to be made and you can only take away so much from non-contact workouts, but how — and with which unit — these linebackers even line up will be interesting to watch. In an ideal world, at least one of McPhee and Ray would work out and one of Bowser and Williams would emerge to form a solid rotation with Judon and Ferguson. A veteran inside linebacker could still be added, but the Ravens seemingly want to take a long look at Onwuasor and Young as the two starters.

3. What will new offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense look like?

It’s no secret Roman was the mastermind behind the shift to a run-heavy attack when Jackson took the starting reins last November, but head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have repeatedly discussed the rebuilding and revamping of the offense “from the ground up” this offseason, making it clear they want to play to their quarterback’s strengths. We know the ground game will remain the foundation with DeCosta spending substantial money to sign former Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram and blocking tight end Nick Boyle to multi-year deals, but the wide receiver position has undergone significant change and the offensive line remains a position group of great interest with the competition at left guard — and perhaps center — shaping up to be tight. In addition to leaning heavily on the running game and the use of multiple tight ends, play-action passes were a staple in Roman’s past offenses.

4. Who will show up in Owings Mills and who won’t?

This is your annual reminder that OTAs are voluntary, but that won’t stop us from noting player attendance, in part because we know it’s important to coaches and many fans are interested. Prominent veterans around the league seeking long-term deals often skip these workouts, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see Judon, Michael Pierce, and others set to become free agents next year over these next few weeks. It’s also worth noting a few prominent veterans who regularly attended OTAs in the past such as Eric Weddle and Mosley are gone, which makes you wonder if incumbents in their mid-to-late-20s will feel as much unstated pressure to attend. Again, none of this is the big deal many try to make it out to be.

5. Will the Ravens escape the spring without any significant injuries?

Washington lost linebacker Reuben Foster to what’s believed to be a season-ending torn ACL Monday. Two springs ago, the Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta to season-ending injuries on consecutive days. Yes, teams are laying the groundwork for the 2019 season over these next several weeks, but getting through May and June workouts with your roster intact tops any coach’s spring wish list. First-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown isn’t expected to be on the practice field until training camp as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery and guard Alex Lewis’ short-term status is unclear after his January shoulder surgery, but the Ravens will use caution with every little ailment this spring while keeping their fingers crossed that nothing catastrophic occurs.

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