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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 2 win over Arizona

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens starting 2-0 for the third time in four years after a 23-17 win over Arizona, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Terrell Suggs’ return to Baltimore was uneventful as he finished with three tackles. He was paid handsomely to return to play in his home state, but I couldn’t help but wonder if witnessing the dramatic improvement from Lamar Jackson firsthand made him regret that decision a little more.

2. The zone coverage breakdowns were concerning — especially with Kansas City up next — but the situational defense was exactly what you want to see. The Cardinals were 3-for-12 on third and fourth downs and 1-for-4 inside the red zone. That’s how you survive giving up 6.5 yards per play.

3. We noted last week that Jackson didn’t throw much outside the numbers against Miami, but that wasn’t the case in Week 2 as he completed passes all over the field (see below), including his beautiful 41-yard completion to seal the six-point win. This is really getting fun.

4. Aside from a Kyler Murray 31-yard pass to KeeSean Johnson in the second quarter, Brandon Carr was stellar with a team-high seven tackles, the second sack of his career, and a pass breakup. Having the versatility to play the nickel is another reminder how valuable his 2017 signing was.

5. The only player to have more receiving yards than Marquise Brown in his first two NFL games was Anquan Boldin in 2003. So much for tempering expectations for a 22-year-old who missed the entire spring and a large portion of summer practice reps. He’s making it look easy.

6. As unexpected as Brown’s immediate success might be, Mark Andrews dominating over the first two games isn’t surprising. He’s caught 16 of the 17 passes on which he’s been targeted so far. Todd Heap’s single-season record of 855 receiving yards by a tight end is in real jeopardy.

7. Sacks are just part of the equation when evaluating a pass rusher, but Matthew Judon has collected one in each of the first two games. He didn’t hit the two-sack mark until Week 9 last season. His contract year is certainly off to a strong start.

8. Pernell McPhee split a sack with Patrick Ricard and played 40 snaps. That workload is more than you’d like to give the 30-year-old with an injury history, but McPhee is the only one offering much pressure when lining up inside.

9. The motion, pre-snap movement, and deception the Ravens are using has to be dizzying for opposing defenses. Jackson’s touchdown to Hayden Hurst came after the tight end flipped to the right side, chipped an edge rusher, went to the ground, and jumped up to catch an easy 1-yard score.

10. Unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-3 from the Arizona 43 on the second drive drew some criticism, but it’s the aggressiveness we’ve come to expect from John Harbaugh. Give me the coach trying to win as opposed to playing not to lose like kicking three field goals inside the 5.

11. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the year, winless Cincinnati was throttled in its home opener, and Baker Mayfield and Cleveland hardly looked like a well-oiled machine against the injury-ravaged Jets after being embarrassed by 30 points at home in Week 1. The AFC North is Baltimore’s division to lose.

12. Change was a theme at the stadium with the debut of new public address announcer Greg Davis and Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” replacing U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” for player introductions. My favorite change, however, was the return of the Ravens shield as the midfield logo.

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Ravens-Cardinals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 15 September 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Old meets new as Terrell Suggs returns to M&T Bank Stadium as a member of the Arizona Cardinals against a young Ravens team with a new face of the franchise.

After a record-setting performance in the 59-10 win over Miami to open the 2019 season, the Baltimore offense will be introduced with 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson scheduled to be the last one out of the tunnel. Against the Dolphins, Jackson tied a team record with five touchdown passes and recorded the only perfect passer rating in Ravens history, a historic Week 1 performance that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Suggs embraced former Raven and close friend Haloti Ngata with a big hug on the sideline during warmups, but he didn’t interact with any Ravens coaches or players on the field. The movie buff posted a video on Instagram Saturday quoting “The Dark Knight” character Harvey Dent: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

As expected, tight end Mark Andrews (foot), wide receiver Marquise Brown (hip), and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (back) are all active despite missing practice time this week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. With Jimmy Smith out with a right knee injury, the Ravens elevated Maurice Canady to the 53-man roster Saturday to add more depth at cornerback against rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and a Cardinals offense that used four-wide sets more than the rest of the NFL combined in Week 1.

Smith took the place of recently-waived offensive tackle Greg Senat, but the remaining six players on the inactive list were unchanged from Week 1 with third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and fourth-round guard Ben Powers both deactivated for the second straight week.

Arizona received a scare Sunday morning with starting left guard Justin Pugh coming down with an illness, but the seventh-year veteran is active.

Former Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree is active and will make his Cardinals debut. Former Ravens tight end Maxx Williams is also now with Arizona and caught up with several teammates prior to warmups.

Sunday’s referee is Ronald Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly skies and temperatures reaching the mid-80s with calm winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys and purple pants for their home opener while Arizona dons red jerseys and white pants.

Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Cardinals have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 4-2 advantage in the all-time regular-season series. The Ravens are 2-1 against Arizona at home with the only defeat coming at Memorial Stadium in 1997.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
CB Jimmy Smith
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

ARIZONA
OL Lamont Gaillard
OL Joshua Miles
OL Jeremy Vujnovich
OL Brett Toth
WR Andy Isabella
DL Jonathan Bullard
DL Michael Dogbe

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snead

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Ravens-Cardinals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 September 2019 by Luke Jones

A pair of 22-year-old starting quarterbacks may not produce an instant classic Sunday, but it’s the kind of matchup that makes you ponder an exciting future as the Ravens host Arizona.

Lamar Jackson took a dramatic leap forward with his five-touchdown performance in the season opener while Kyler Murray showed his promise late as the Cardinals rallied to force a Week 1 tie with Detroit last week. Of course, Jackson has a head start in his development after helping lead the Ravens to their first AFC North title since 2012 last season, and one could argue his early success was a factor leading teams to view Murray differently as he was taken first overall by the Cardinals in April.

That story aside, Baltimore aims to begin 2-0 for the third time in the last four seasons before a challenging trip to Kansas City next week.

It’s time to go on the record as the Cardinals play the Ravens for the seventh time in their history with Baltimore leading the all-time regular-season series 4-2. Arizona won the most recent meeting in 2015, but the Ravens are 2-1 against the Cardinals in Baltimore with the only loss coming at Memorial Stadium back in 1997.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will rush for 50 yards and throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead. Jackson made his harshest critics look foolish with a record-setting performance in Week 1, but you hope expectations haven’t swung too far in the opposite direction as some are already touting him as an MVP candidate. I’m not buying his three rushing attempts becoming the new norm, especially with teams seeing you can’t sell out to take his legs away without consequences through the air. Arizona gave up a combined 13 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns to Detroit slot receiver Danny Amendola and tight end T.J. Hockenson last week. That bodes well for Snead and Andrews.

2. Terrell Suggs will register a strip-sack in his return to Baltimore. Questions about how the 36-year-old former Raven will hold up over a full campaign are more than fair based on the last few seasons, but Suggs was very active in his Cardinals debut with two sacks, one of them resulting in a fumble. Lost in Jackson’s Week 1 passing brilliance was that he didn’t fumble in a game he started for the first time in his career, an encouraging development. Offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will have their hands full against Suggs and two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones, and Suggs will have active hands knowing Jackson’s problems with ball security last year.

3. Baltimore will bat three passes at the line of scrimmage, one leading to an interception. Shorter quarterbacks are capable of NFL success, but the 5-foot-10 Murray had four passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last week, which did little to quell concerns about his stature. The rookie didn’t push the ball down the field a ton, but he threw it in every direction, making it critical for Baltimore pass rushers to get their hands up in passing lanes. Pernell McPhee and Chris Wormley have the potential to be big factors as inside rushers since the Ravens must be disciplined on the edge against a mobile quarterback who throws on the run effectively.

4. David Johnson will pick up 110 total yards and a touchdown in Arizona’s four-wide offense. With no disrespect meant toward Larry Fitzgerald, the rest of the Cardinals wide receivers don’t scare you from a matchup standpoint. However, Kliff Kingsbury used four wide receivers on two-thirds of Arizona’s plays in Week 1, which could open things for Johnson as a receiver down the seam. It’ll be fascinating to see how Wink Martindale attacks a unique offense with a group of cornerbacks at less than full strength, but his inside linebackers will be tested more this week against Johnson, who will try to slip out of the backfield to try to neutralize the pass rush against a rookie quarterback.

5. The Ravens will not dominate to the degree they did in Miami, but the outcome won’t be in doubt in a 31-14 win. I have a tough time seeing a path to victory for the Cardinals that doesn’t include multiple Baltimore turnovers or a couple injuries at key positions, but Murray’s performance over the final 25 minutes last week reiterates that the Ravens shouldn’t take this team lightly as the rookie will show his potential on a couple scoring drives. We’ll see a less spectacular but more balanced performance from Jackson, who will make plays with his arm and his legs to the delight of an energetic home crowd. Arizona will be more careful in pass coverage than the Dolphins were, but that will open up more room for Mark Ingram and the Baltimore rushing attack to control the tempo and the clock. The Ravens know they need a 2-0 start with the schedule toughening up considerably beginning next week, and John Harbaugh’s team will take care of business in comfortable fashion.

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

Posted on 13 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As Marquise Brown shines, fellow Ravens rookie waiting his turn

Posted on 12 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marquise Brown still not at “full speed”

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday’s injury report

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

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

Below is the full injury report:

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener

Posted on 06 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing for Thursday’s preseason opener against Jacksonville, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Yes, it’s still just practice, but Lamar Jackson checked another box with two steady-to-strong showings against a talented Jacksonville defense. He isn’t suddenly a Marino-Vick hybrid, but he’s making good and on-time decisions with better accuracy. Within the reasonable range of expectations, the Ravens have to be pleased — and excited.

2. Jackson presents a preseason catch-22 John Harbaugh has rarely faced. The 22-year-old with eight career starts will surely benefit from game reps, but how much potential injury risk are you willing to take? I certainly expect him to play more than the 31 snaps Joe Flacco took all last preseason.

3. The timing of the Alex Lewis trade was a little surprising considering the current left guard picture, but his decision to handle his own shoulder rehab made it apparent the sides weren’t on the same page. It’s good news for Greg Senat and Patrick Mekari, two bubble linemen to watch.

4. Asked if the clock’s ticking on Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, defensive line coach Joe Cullen said, “The clock has ticked, and it’s ready to explode.” Both flashed more this past week, but these preseason games are massive for them and the other outside linebackers not named Matthew Judon.

5. All eyes are on the pass rush, but setting the edge is another question mark with Terrell Suggs gone. Cullen said Pernell McPhee is the best in that department opposite Judon, but you really prefer him being more situational rusher than starter in the base defense. That’s worrisome.

6. You’ve probably noticed the lack of Marquise Brown observations this past week, but the rookie first-round pick just isn’t doing much beyond individual position work. He obviously won’t play Thursday, but you’d certainly expect the Ravens to increase his activity level after that.

7. Veterans always deserve the benefit of the doubt this time of year, but it’s been a pretty slow start to camp for Jimmy Smith, who gave up two long touchdowns to Jacksonville receivers Tuesday and was visibly frustrated. The good news is it’s early August and the 31-year-old is healthy.

8. Besides Brown and Miles Boykin, two young wide receivers I’m looking forward to watching in the preseason are 2018 fourth-round pick Jaleel Scott and rookie free agent Antoine Wesley. Both are tall and have consistently made plays this summer, leaving them in the conversation for a roster spot.

9. Coaches have mentioned Jaylon Ferguson still adjusting to the speed of the game, but you hope being able to let loose in preseason action will get him going. How much he does — or doesn’t do — on special teams may dictate how he’s handled on game days early in the regular season.

10. Patrick Ricard and Cyrus Jones are two bubble players with which I’ve been impressed. Ricard has delivered crushing blocks as a fullback and extra tight end and provides game-day versatility as a defensive lineman. Strictly a punt returner last year, Jones has played with an edge as a nickel corner.

11. How Kaare Vedvik kicks in preseason games will determine whether the Ravens are able to fetch anything in a trade. I can’t imagine more than a conditional seventh-rounder, but he’ll need to show more accuracy than he has this spring and summer. The leg strength is definitely there.

12. Thirty minutes into Monday’s practice, Jacksonville’s James Onwualu was carted off the field with a season-ending knee injury. In the first 11 camp practices, not a single Raven was carted off and only a few even left the field with a health concern. I’ll now wait for the jinx accusations.

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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: Safeties

Posted on 16 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week 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.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends

We continue at safety, a position at which the organization has exhausted extensive resources since Ed Reed played his final game as a Raven in Super Bowl XLVII. After failed draft picks and several underwhelming value signings, Baltimore finally went all in at the position by giving out a free-agent contract totaling $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons. Those dollars have given the Ravens one of the best safety groups in the NFL

This position isn’t quite as deep as cornerback, but the philosophy is similar with versatile pieces capable of filling different roles within the defense. This offers defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the option to rotate if he wants to give someone a breather or offer a different look to an opponent.

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

The Man — Earl Thomas
Skinny: The six-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense to a Super Bowl championship and another appearance in the big game gives the Ravens their first true center fielder at free safety since Reed. The defense will miss Eric Weddle’s football intellect on the back end, but Thomas provides a clear play-making upgrade and shouldn’t have too much difficulty adjusting to Baltimore’s more complex system from the direct Cover 3 looks he ran with the Seahawks. A four-year, $55 million contract including $32 million guaranteed automatically makes you “the man” of this group.

Old Reliable — Tony Jefferson
Skinny: Considering Thomas hasn’t played as much as a preseason game in a Ravens uniform, Jefferson is the default choice here as he’s become one of the defensive leaders after the departures of Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley in the offseason. The 27-year-old is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage and has missed only three games in his six-year NFL career. Critics may knock his four-year, $34 million contract or his intermediate-to-deep pass coverage, but the Ravens very much value what Jefferson brings to the field and the locker room.

Under Fire — Thomas
Skinny: The lucrative financial commitment made to Thomas came after he broke his lower left leg for the second time in three seasons last September and played in just 29 games over the last three seasons. The 30-year-old was playing at an elite level in the opening month of 2018, but you have to at least wonder what long-term toll the latest injury might have on his speed and agility entering his 10th season. Much is riding on Thomas remaining a special talent after so many key departures on defense left plenty of question marks among the front seven.

Up-and-Comer — DeShon Elliott
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas missed his rookie year after breaking his forearm in the preseason, but he was arguably the biggest surprise of the spring, showing impressive range in pass coverage on a few highlight interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Elliott also stood out with some physical play early in last year’s training camp, so that coupled with coverage ability could make it difficult to keep the 22-year-old off the field if the same play-making ability flashes this summer.

Sleeper — Anthony Levine
Skinny: The 32-year-old really shouldn’t be a sleeper at this point, but he remains underappreciated — especially outside Baltimore — as one of the best dime backs in the NFL. After years of that sub package being an afterthought, Levine finally got his chance in the role a few years ago and has excelled. The longtime special-teams standout recorded pass breakups on two of the final four defensive plays in the win over Cleveland last December to clinch the AFC North title, just an example of how important he’s been to the Ravens’ defensive success over the last few years.

The Rest — Chuck Clark, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Clark has been a rock-solid contributor as a backup safety and special-teams player over his first two seasons, but the deep depth across the secondary may mean it’s no lock the 2017 sixth-round selection from Virgina Tech makes the roster. Despite never appearing in an NFL regular-season game after being drafted by the New York Giants out of Notre Dame in 2014, Jackson is still chasing the dream after spending the 2018 preseason and part of the regular season on Baltimore’s practice squad.

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Ravens ink third-round pick Ferguson, leaving two draft signings to go

Posted on 31 May 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens signed the first of their two 2019 third-round picks Friday by agreeing to a four-year deal with outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson.

The projected contract amount for the 85th overall pick was a total of $3.423 million with a signing bonus of just over $900,000. Ferguson’s signing leaves first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown and third-round wide receiver Miles Boykin as Baltimore’s only unsigned picks with the start of training camp just under two months away.

Ferguson was projected by some draft pundits to be drafted in the second round after registering an impressive 45 sacks in four seasons at Louisiana Tech, but some questions about his athleticism led to him still being on the board for the Ravens’ first pick of Day 2. Edge rusher is one of Baltimore’s biggest question marks after the free-agent departures of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs.

“He’s a guy that his skills et really fits who we are as a defense,” general manager Eric DeCosta said during the draft. “It’s a big hole for us. We lost some really good pass rushers, and we think that Jaylon can come in and really add to the other guys that we have and really help us on third downs and passing situations.”

The 23-year-old is competing with 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams as well as veteran newcomers Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray for immediate playing time. Fourth-year outside linebacker Matthew Judon has not been present for voluntary organized team activities open to the media, but he will be entering his third season as a starter and is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Understandable comparisons have been drawn to Suggs after Ferguson broke the former Raven’s NCAA Division I career sacks record, but the 6-foot-5, 259-pound pass rusher nicknamed “Sack Daddy” understands there’s no replacing one of the best players in franchise history.

“That’s some big shoes to fill, and I’m not really trying to step in his place because he [was] in Baltimore for way longer than I’ve been in Baltimore,” Ferguson said during rookie camp in early May. “I’m just coming in and getting my start on the field, doing whatever I can to help the team win.”

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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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