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humphrey

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Cornerbacks

Posted on 09 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in a little over two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

We’ll start at cornerback, which is the deepest and most talented position group on the entire roster. Over the last five years, the Ravens have handed out a few sizable contracts at this position and used meaningful draft capital by selecting a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five consecutive drafts. In other words, we’ve seen quite a shift from the days of Baltimore needing to sign street free agents such as Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright to immediately fill prominent roles because of poor depth.

The abundance of talent includes multiple options to play the slot or outside and allows defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to rotate his cornerbacks much like you typically see with defensive linemen and pass rushers. Despite dealing with no long-term injuries at the position last season, the Ravens had four starting-caliber corners play over 600 snaps, but none took more than 876. It’s the kind of rotation that help keeps everyone fresh and opposing offenses guessing.

That’s a luxury few teams enjoy in today’s pass-crazy NFL, but secondary depth has become more important than ever with the Ravens defense using five or more defensive backs 83 percent of the time last season. Simply put, the nickel has really become their base defense rather than the traditional front seven.

Below is a look at several cornerbacks who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marlon Humphrey
Skinny: Having just turned 23, the former first-round pick was voted team MVP by the local media last year and appears on the cusp of Pro Bowl stardom entering his third season, evident by Pro Football Focus naming him one of the NFL’s top 25 players under age 25 this offseason. He ranked third in the NFL in forced incompletion percentage and graded seventh among qualified cornerbacks in coverage, according to PFF. If he stays healthy, Humphrey could be one of the NFL’s best for years to come.

Old Reliable — Brandon Carr
Skinny: If his remarkable streak of never missing a game — while starting each one — in his first 11 seasons weren’t enough, the 33-year-old registered the eighth-lowest passer rating allowed in the NFL and was one of only three cornerbacks playing at least 500 coverage snaps not to surrender a touchdown in 2018, per PFF. Carr also filled in capably as a slot corner at times despite rarely playing there over the course of his career. The veteran isn’t a star, but he oozes dependability, an underrated trait in the NFL.

Under Fire — Jimmy Smith
Skinny: Many wondered if Smith would be back as he sports the second-highest salary cap number and 18th-highest cash payout among NFL cornerbacks in 2019, but Baltimore continues to bet on the upside of the 2011 first-round pick who’s played more than 12 games in the regular season only twice in his career due to injuries or suspensions. We’ve seen Smith, who turns 31 later this month, play at a superb level when right physically, but he needs a healthy and productive campaign with free agency looming.

Up-and-Comer — Anthony Averett
Skinny: The 2019 fourth-round pick from Alabama saw only 71 defensive snaps as a rookie, but most of that action came in the Week 14 loss at Kansas City, which was an impressive showing for the 24-year-old against an explosive offense. With Smith in the final year of his contract and Carr entering his 12th season, Averett is a candidate to step into a starting role as early as next season, but he’ll be asked to be a versatile game-day reserve capable of playing outside and inside in the meantime.

Sleeper — Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Formerly of the Memphis Express in the defunct Alliance of American Football, Bonds signed only after trying out during rookie camp and is a long shot to crack the 53-man roster in this deep group of cornerbacks. However, the 5-foot-8, 182-pound slot corner from Tennessee State was solid in the spring and intercepted Lamar Jackson twice in the same red-zone period during last month’s minicamp, which garnered plenty of attention. He’ll be fighting for a job in Baltimore or elsewhere this summer.

The Rest — Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Iman Marshall, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: Young’s three-year, $25.8 million contract extension reflects how highly the Ravens think of the slot corner, but the deal was panned elsewhere as a market setter for a relatively unproven player and others noted most of his success dating back to college has come as an outside corner. Agree or not, Baltimore sees a higher ceiling for the 25-year-old that will need to be reached. … The 29-year-old Bethel will really have to shine on special teams to justify the Ravens guaranteeing him $1 million despite the deep depth that was already in place at the position. … Jones, a Gilman School product, provided a spark as a punt returner down the stretch last season, but he may need to expand his return duties to kickoffs as well to secure his roster spot for 2019. … Canady has been a productive slot option in the past, but his injury history and expiring rookie contract are working against his roster chances.

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eluemunor

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Five Ravens players whose stock rose during spring workouts

Posted on 16 June 2019 by Luke Jones

You never want to make too much out of the Ravens’ spring workouts, whether it’s overanalyzing every Lamar Jackson throw or inflating the roster chances of the rookie labeled a sleeper after the draft.

Ravens safety Tony Jefferson said it best this past week about judging players during non-contact voluntary workouts.

“We’ll see in training camp when the pads come on,” Jefferson said. “Obviously, some people look good in shorts, and some people look great in pads. That’s when we find out who the real football players are.”

It’s particularly difficult judging offensive and defensive linemen without pads, which leads to even more attention on players at the skill positions.

Acknowledging those limitations, below are five players who seemingly helped their stock this spring:

OL Jermaine Eluemunor

Head coach John Harbaugh threw some cold water on this one by noting Eluemunor’s need to get in better playing shape for training camp, but the third-year lineman taking virtually all first-team reps at left guard was one of the bigger surprises of the spring and speaks to his growth since his rookie year. This figures to be one of the more interesting position battles on the roster with James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Bradley Bozeman, and rookie fourth-round pick Ben Powers all in the mix, but Eluemunor has quietly expanded his versatility by filling in at left tackle last year and moving back to guard this spring, which should improve his roster chances even if he doesn’t win the starting job.

ILB Chris Board

The discussion following the March departure of four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley centered around 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young moving into the starting lineup next to Patrick Onwuasor, but Board, an undrafted free agent who excelled on special teams as a rookie, split the first-team snaps with Young and even appeared to get more reps in certain packages. Harbaugh anticipates a rotation between the two with dime back Anthony Levine also factoring into the snap distribution, but Board could be on the same path traveled by the likes of Onwuasor, Zach Orr, Jameel McClain, and Bart Scott as undrafted players who started on special teams and eventually carved out starting roles.

S DeShon Elliott

The Ravens should have one of the best starting safety duos in the NFL with Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson, but it was impossible to watch Elliott make plays this spring without thinking Wink Martindale needs to find ways to get him on the field. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Texas product showed off plenty of physicality last summer before breaking his forearm, but it was his range in pass coverage that stood out in spring workouts. Whether it’s working Elliott into the dime package or using a little bit of a safety rotation like we saw at cornerback last year, the Ravens will have a hard time leaving the 2018 sixth-round pick on the sideline if what he did in the spring carries into the preseason.

WR Sean Modster

The last two names on this list remain long shots to make the 53-man roster, but Modster flashed on multiple occasions this spring and even drew some praise from slot cornerback Tavon Young. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound receiver from Boise State has shown good hands and change of direction working out of the slot, but he’ll need to show that same ability against the threat of contact to put himself in serious contention for a roster spot. With a few veterans and several recent draft picks ahead of Modster in the pecking order and Baltimore’s run-based offense not exactly prioritizing wide receivers as highly as most teams, the rookie free agent will need to really impress in the preseason to have a chance.

CB Terrell Bonds

Only signed to a contract after trying out during rookie camp and a former member of the Memphis Express in the defunct Alliance of American Football, Bonds made quite an impression on the second day of minicamp when he intercepted Jackson twice in the same red-zone period. At 5-foot-8 and 182 pounds, the Tennessee State product faces what could be a near-impossible path to a roster spot with the deep depth as his position, but a strong summer would at least put him in position to catch on elsewhere like ex-Raven Darious Williams did with the Los Angeles Rams last fall. The fact that we’re even mentioning Bonds in this space is a credit to his hard work after he went undrafted in 2018.

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marquisebrown

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

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elliott shines again

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

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

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

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

Rough day for quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

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