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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens counting down to Sunday’s kickoff of the 2019 regular season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson heard the criticism all offseason and put in the work to improve his passing by all accounts. How big a step forward he takes remains to be seen, but he was in command of the offense and threw more consistently all summer. I can’t wait to watch him.

2. The 22-year-old will be surrounded by plenty of youth as 14 of Baltimore’s 24 offensive players (not including hybrid defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard) are in their first or second season. That could make for an uncomfortable downside, but the ceiling is exciting, especially at the skill positions.

3. The Wink Martindale effect eases some concern with the pass rush, but you still need individuals to win 1-on-1 matchups. Beyond Matthew Judon, I’m not confident the defensive front has the rushers to consistently do this, which is going to put more pressure on their secondary than the opposing quarterback.

4. Willie Henry went from looking like he could start and be a major part of the interior pass rush to being waived and going unclaimed by the other 31 teams. Dropping 20 pounds from his listed 2017 playing weight (308 pounds) clearly didn’t pay off for a once-promising player.

5. Chris Wormley being the only true 5-technique defensive end on the roster says much about the evolution of NFL defenses. You’ll still hear “front seven” in conversation, but the league used base personnel only 25 percent of the time last year, creating less need to carry so many interior linemen.

6. It was a tough summer for Baltimore’s heralded 2016 fourth round. Henry and Alex Lewis are gone, Tavon Young and Kenneth Dixon are on injured reserve, and only Chris Moore remains on the active roster. The group was very promising, but even the above-average Young has missed two whole seasons.

7. All eyes are on left guard, but did anyone else find it strange that Orlando Brown Jr. played 18 snaps in the preseason finale while the likes of Chris Moore, James Hurst, and even rookies Miles Boykin and Justice Hill were held out? Brown didn’t play in last summer’s finale.

8. I’m surprised how many questioned whether three-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Bethel would make the roster despite the Ravens — who were already deep at cornerback — giving him $1 million guaranteed in the opening week of free agency. This is the 12th year of the John Harbaugh era. Special teams matter.

9. Jaleel Scott was in danger of not making the team as a fourth-round rookie last year if not for a hamstring injury that landed him on IR. A team official noted this spring how much he’d improved, and Scott carried that over with a strong preseason. Good for him.

10. Members of the practice squad serve varying functions, but De’Lance Turner and Maurice Canady are solid insurance policies should a need arise at running back or cornerback. Re-signing them was a plus for organizational depth.

11. Perhaps a deal is being completed as we speak, but I was a little surprised Eric DeCosta didn’t make a trade for a veteran offensive lineman or a pass rusher with so much activity throughout the league over the weekend. Of course, he had already pulled off three August trades.

12. The Kaare Vedvik saga reinforces how desperate contenders can be for a kicker and how blessed the Ravens have been — one nightmare aside. Baltimore got a fifth-rounder, the New York Jets wound up with a kicker they’d previously attempted to acquire for nothing, and Minnesota has egg on its face.

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Sizing up 2019 Ravens roster after third preseason game

Posted on 26 August 2019 by Luke Jones

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

My current assessment suggests as many as 49 players would be considered safely on the 53-man roster if the deadline were to come now. Of the 90 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — I list 13 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of outside linebackers or offensive linemen isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the back end of the roster.

Bubble players who are underlined are the ones projected to make the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 26.

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

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Of the bubble trio, Dixon is the best back, Ervin the most impactful special-teams player, and Turner the most balanced, but none of them have built an overwhelming case to be kept as a fourth running back. Dixon could have some limited trade value while Turner could go to the practice squad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CORNERBACKS (7)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: Trying to project this group remains extremely difficult with no final decision yet on Young’s status and the rookie Marshall having missed more than two weeks with a thigh injury. If both go to IR, keeping Canady appears more likely as the Ravens want to maintain deep depth at this position.

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

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

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Ravens-Eagles preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 August 2019 by Luke Jones

Long viewed as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the third preseason game between the Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles isn’t expected to resemble that.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed most starters will play around 20 snaps for the third straight week, but that plan for quarterback Lamar Jackson may need to be revisted with three members of the projected starting offensive line dealing with health concerns. Meanwhile, it remains unclear if Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz will play Thursday after being held out of his team’s first two preseason contests by head coach Doug Pederson.

Starters seeing less and less playing time has brought the preseason schedule under greater scrutiny with many calling for a reduction in exhibition games. The Ravens have conducted two sets of joint workouts in each of the last two summers, a practice becoming more popular among NFL teams since it provides competition in a more controlled environment to curtail injuries.

“I just felt like we got a lot of work done,” said Harbaugh about the practices in Philadelphia and the possibility of eliminating some preseason contests. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all. I’m on record [saying] I don’t know how many of these preseason games we really need to play, but I also understand there’s a lot to the bargaining process. We’ll see what happens.”

Of course, this game remains very meaningful for players fighting for spots on the 53-man roster with final cuts only 10 days away. The preseason finale is often touted as the forum for bubble players to win jobs, but the reality is most roster decisions have already been made by that point and only a spot or two at most remains up for grabs.

Thursday represents the last best chance for many of these roster hopefuls.

“It’s going to be a measuring stick definitely,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “It’s one of those things that we talk about. This third preseason game, it’s getting down to crunch time now where guys are going to make the 53 or they’re not.

“The biggest message was, ‘If you think you’re on the bubble, you are.‘”

Thursday marks the 13th time the Ravens and Philadelphia will meet in the preseason with Baltimore holding a 7-5 edge. The all-time regular-season series is tied at 2-2-1.

The Ravens own a 35-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won a remarkable 15 in a row, a streak going back to the beginning of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

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

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

OUT: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), CB Tavon Young (neck), QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Seth Roberts, CB Iman Marshall (thigh), OT Greg Senat, OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: LB Chris Board (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Otaro Alaka, OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (foot), G Jermaine Eluemunor, RB Kenneth Dixon, RB Gus Edwards, LB Shane Ray, LB Nicholas Grigsby, DT Gerald Willis

Five players to watch Thursday night

TE Hayden Hurst

The 2018 first-round pick is healthy and has had his share of good days during training camp, but he’s recorded only one catch for minus-1 yard over the first two preseason games. Building confidence and consistency are keys for Hurst entering his second season, so you’d like to see him finish the preseason on a high note. With first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown still not at full strength, Jackson and the passing game may need to lean even more heavily on the tight ends early in the season, making it important for Hurst to at least emerge as a productive complementary option to Mark Andrews.

LB Shane Ray

The Ravens have waited all summer for Ray to emerge, but it hasn’t happened to this point as he didn’t really stand out even playing against second- and third-team offensive linemen in the first two preseason games, which isn’t an encouraging sign for someone in his fifth season. The former first-round pick of the Denver Broncos missed practice time earlier this week, but he did return for Tuesday’s session, leading you to believe he should be able to play Thursday. The gap is hardly insurmountable, but Ray appears to be sixth in the pecking order at outside linebacker, which may not add up to a roster spot.

OL Bradley Bozeman

Despite not being strongly considered for the starting left guard job in camp, Bozeman has seemingly solidified his roster standing with solid play as the backup center in the preseason as well as an ability to fill in at either guard spot. The health status of the starting offensive line could press Bozeman into starting duty against the Eagles, which could provide him the chance to make a late pitch to be the left guard. The 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama never did push Matt Skura for the starting center position as many anticipated this offseason, but he still looks the part of a versatile reserve.

CB Maurice Canady

The oft-injured defensive back entering the final year of his rookie deal looked to be the odd man out in a very deep group of cornerbacks, but the neck injury to Tavon Young has shortened a path to a roster spot for Canady, who has played well on the outside this summer. He served as Baltimore’s nickel back in the second half of the 2017 season, so it will be interesting to see if he receives more opportunities to compete in the slot against the likes of Cyrus Jones, Brandon Carr, and Anthony Averett. Canady’s injury history and contract status still make him vulnerable on cut-down day, but his chances have improved.

RB De’Lance Turner

Despite rushing for 58 yards on 11 carries in the first two preseason games, Turner looks to be no higher than fifth on the running back depth chart, which would suggest he’s really not even on the bubble. However, the burst he’s shown as a rusher coupled with his appearance on starting special-teams units would lead you to believe he’s vying for a job, especially since Kenneth Dixon is in the final year of his contract, has a long injury history, and doesn’t play special teams. No one suggests Turner is better than Dixon, but those variables work in the former’s favor if Baltimore wants to keep a fourth back behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill.

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Sizing up 2019 Ravens roster after two preseason games

Posted on 18 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games in the books, it’s time to to ponder the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current assessment suggests as many as 48 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the depth at certain positions and overall talent level on the roster.

Of the 90 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — I list 15 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the back of the roster.

Bubble players who are underlined are the ones projected to make the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 18.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley’s summer play has been predictably inconsistent, but the Ravens would prefer not to lose the sixth-round pick after the strides he’s made since spring. The health of Griffin’s thumb will play a big part in determining whether DeCosta attempts to sneak McSorley through waivers and to the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon received early action Thursday, but the absence of any special-teams contributions make it difficult to put him on the roster, especially with his injury history and Dixon being in the last year of his contract. Special teams give Turner and Ervin a better chance, but both are a little too far down the depth chart.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Seth Roberts, Antoine Wesley
LONG SHOT: Michael Floyd, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts appeared safely on the roster 10 days ago, but Moore has looked good in the preseason and has practiced well behind Snead in the slot, leaving the injured Roberts vulnerable. Scott must contribute on special teams, but the Ravens may now value his upside over Roberts’ higher floor.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: With the way offensive coordinator Greg Roman values tight ends, Scarff and Herdman could both be viable candidates for the practice squad. Ricard’s positional flexibility gives Baltimore a fourth option as a blocking tight end behind the top three on the depth chart.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor
BUBBLE: Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
LONG SHOT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: Eluemunor’s strong showing against the Packers probably removed any doubts about his roster status since he might be the best backup left tackle on the roster. Meanwhile, Mekari didn’t stand out after his strong week of practice, and Senat’s current absence has really hurt his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Ricard needs be included in the overview of this group as he’s playing like someone who could see some snaps in the game-day rotation. Sieler has had an underwhelming summer, but he’s the only true 5-technique end behind Wormley on roster and Willis hasn’t stood out in practices or games.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Donald Payne, Nicholas Grigsby, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka may have the best chance among the rookie free agents to crack the 53-man roster, but the frequency with which the Ravens use the dime package makes keeping a fourth inside linebacker less critical. Board’s recovery from a concussion could alter the thinking on Alaka, however.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Shane Ray
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: The group behind Judon and McPhee — whose durability is a question — remains concerning, but Ray hasn’t impressed considering his experience level relative to Ferguson, Williams, and Bowser and the competition he’s faced in preseason games. A post-summer acquisition here still feels possible.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: The serious neck injury to Young takes Jones off the bubble and pushes Canady on the right side of the bubble since he can play outside and at the nickel. Sidelined since last weekend, the rookie Marshall could also end up on IR, which would open an extra spot at another position of need.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
BUBBLE: Brynden Trawick
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams ability shouldn’t be overlooked, but he’s too far down the depth chart at the safety position and there are already too many cornerbacks to try to add another defensive back to the mix. Jackson has done everything he possibly can to earn a real opportunity elsewhere.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek
Skinny: The only question here is whether special teams coaches Chris Horton and Randy Brown will miraculously transform Nizialek or any other kicker potentially added in the final two weeks of the preseason into another late-round pick in a trade. No one develops specialists better than the Ravens.

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Ravens 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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O. Brown, Eluemunor, Ray practice after passing conditioning test

Posted on 26 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ infamous conditioning test has victimized many players at the start of training camp in the John Harbaugh era, but the entire current roster has now passed.

After sitting out the first full squad workout of the summer, starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, and outside linebacker Shane Ray were all activated from the non-football injury list and practiced Friday upon passing the conditioning test. Brown and Eluemunor — who worked as the starting left guard during spring workouts — were relegated to second-team duties in what appeared to be a temporary punishment for their early-camp conditioning woes.

A failed conditioning test garners much attention in the early days of training camp, but very rarely has fallout lingered beyond some short-term ridicule and embarrassment. Even potential future Hall of Fame safety Earl Thomas found the running test to be intimidating upon reporting for his first camp with the Ravens, a sentiment shared by numerous veteran free agents over the years.

“I feel like I trained pretty well in the offseason,” Thomas said, “but I thought I was going to throw up at the end.”

Center Matt Skura was the only new absence from Friday’s workout as he was excused from the team to attend a funeral, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

With players practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts for the first two days, workouts haven’t varied much from spring organized team activities, but that will change Saturday with pads and full contact being introduced. The threat of contact is frequently a separator between young players who have stood out playing in shorts in the spring and others who haven’t yet been able to use their physicality. As veteran safety Tony Jefferson remarked in the spring, that is when coaches begin finding out who the real players are.

The rookies will also get their first taste of playing at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens hold a free and open practice Saturday evening.

“They’re going to put the pads on, and they’re going to be in the stadium,” Harbaugh said. “OK, what is that going to look like? It could be a little off, but I talked to them. I said, ‘Let’s not get caught up in all of that. Let’s just keep it simple, keep it on football, get in our box, and do our job.

“The field will still be the same length and the same width. It’s still a 10-foot free throw. That’s a ‘Hoosiers’ reference. Remember that?”

Jackson adds “muscle, not fat”

Many have commented on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson looking bigger than he did last season when he was listed at 212 pounds as a rookie, but that is by design.

The 22-year-old said he’s gained seven to 10 pounds of muscle this offseason “to put some more meat on” his bones, stressing that it was muscle and not fat and joking that he’d soon look like head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders. The body change hasn’t seemed to hinder his speed as Jackson has continued blowing past many teammates in practices.

“You take hits. Those guys are big out there,” said Jackson about his reasoning for adding weight. “The league is totally different. Grown men are trying to feed their families. Three-hundred-pounders coming at you running 4.5s. It’s different out there in the league.”

Lewis to begin practicing early next month

Like rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, fourth-year guard Alex Lewis has been working out individually off to the side, but his practice debut is at least another week or two away after rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery.

“If everything stays the same, he should be full-go in early August,” Harbaugh said. “When is that, a week and a half, two weeks? He looks good. He’s strong. He’s over 320 pounds. Everything looks stable. He passed his conditioning test. He’s moving well, and we just have to get him to practice now.”

Currently on the physically unable to perform list, Lewis will be competing for the starting left guard spot in the final year of his contract, but injuries have limited him to just 20 games in his first three seasons.

Leach recognized

Retired fullback Vonta Leach played more games with the Houston Texas in his 10-year career, but he chose to officially retire as a Raven because no organization “glorified or embodied” his position in the same way.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection last played in 2013 and was recognized at a Friday press conference that included executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh. Leach, 37, was named to two Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl in his three seasons with Baltimore.

“You don’t get a lot of praise unless you really know football,” said Leach about playing the bruising fullback position. “But when the fans yelled my name, ‘Leeeeach!’ no matter what I did on the field, when my name was called, that did something. That was very special to me. As I was walking out there today [at training camp], just when they say my name, they’re always going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”

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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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Three Ravens held out after failing conditioning test, M. Brown “on schedule”

Posted on 25 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A projected starter and two other starting hopefuls were held out from practice as the Ravens officially began training camp Thursday morning.

Right tackle Orlando Brown, guard Jermaine Eluemunor, and outside linebacker Shane Ray didn’t participate in the first full-squad workout after failing the team’s conditioning test. All three observed Thursday’s practice in workout clothes and will remain on the active non-football injury list until being cleared to practice.

While Brown is expected to be the full-time starter after starting 10 games as a rookie, Eluemunor is competing for the open starting left guard job and Ray, a former first-round pick of the Denver Broncos, is vying for playing time in a wide-open competition at edge rusher. With Eluemunor and Brown not practicing, rookie Ben Powers was playing left guard and veteran James Hurst was manning right tackle for the first-team offense Thursday.

“It’s a failed physical and conditioning test, so those guys have to either pass the test or we will have certain conditioning protocol that they will have to go through,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Really, we want to make sure that they’re ready to practice the way we want to practice and make sure they’re safe and make sure they’re productive and ready to go. We have a standard for that, and we stick to it.”

As expected, rookie first-round pick Marquise Brown did not take part in Thursday’s practice, but Harbaugh said it was a “great sign” the speedy wide receiver had passed his conditioning test and is now running at full speed, something he wasn’t yet doing in mid-June. Brown did extensive running and agility work on a side field and caught passes from the Jugs machine, but the Ravens appear committed to bringing him along slowly in his recovery from a Lisfranc foot injury sustained while playing for the University of Oklahoma last December.

General manager Eric DeCosta said the organization “conservatively” expected Brown to be ready for training camp on the night he was selected with the 25th overall pick in April’s draft.

“That’s in the doctors’ hands right now in terms of the healing process,” Harbaugh said. “No setbacks. He’s on schedule. They want to make sure ‘this cut’ and ‘that cut’ don’t make him feel pain. They’re probably erring on the side of caution to some degree, but I don’t want to put a time frame on it because it’s never in the coaches’ hands.

“I’m hopeful, and I’m really expecting him back here pretty soon.”

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce didn’t appear to be limited in his first practice since last season and addressed the weight and conditioning problems that kept him out of mandatory minicamp, saying he apologized to his teammates and coaches for “letting them down” last month. The 26-year-old praised the efforts of head athletic trainer Ron Medlen, head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders, and director of sports nutrition Sarah Snyder for devising workout and diet plans to get him back into playing shape over the last six weeks.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Pierce said he’s lost “a little over 20” pounds since minicamp and wants to lose more between now and the start of the season. The former undrafted free agent from Samford passed his conditioning test Sunday, noting that “you can’t fake that.” His playing weight was listed at 340 pounds last season.

“I delayed my dieting. I wasn’t diligent in my dieting. I wasn’t diligent in my conditioning,” said Pierce about an offseason in which he didn’t participate in the team’s voluntary workout program. “That’s a mistake I learned from. It really, really won’t happen again. That’s going to be my mission to prove to the guys that I’m here to work.”

Punt returner and cornerback Cyrus Jones was also practicing fully after not being cleared for spring workouts due to a medical condition he declined to disclose Thursday.

Veteran guard Alex Lewis remains on the active physically unable to perform list while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but he was working out individually on a side field. Rookie guard Patrick Mekari (back) was activated from the PUP list for the first full-team practice after missing time late in the spring.

The Ravens waived wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, a former undrafted free agent who has struggled to stay healthy since showing promise two summers ago. The transaction was given a non-football injury designation, which likely means he failed his conditioning test.

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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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