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earlthomas

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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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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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pierce

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Pierce begins contract year with Ravens in dubious fashion

Posted on 11 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ two most notable players entering the final year of their rookie contracts had strikingly different starts to mandatory minicamp.

Both outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Michael Pierce chose to skip Baltimore’s voluntary offseason training program this spring, a common practice of notable players in contract years. However, while Judon looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat during Tuesday’s practice, Pierce didn’t even make it out of the opening warmup period.

Noticeably bigger than his listed 340-pound frame from last season, Pierce left the field and didn’t return after a brief conversation with head coach John Harbaugh just minutes into the morning workout.

“He’s not ready to practice, just from a safety standpoint, for his own healthy and safety,” Harbaugh said. “We recognized that, and we pulled him off for that reason.

“He’s not ready for that practice yet. You can probably tell.”

It was an embarrassing development for the former undrafted free agent, who graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in 2018 and is seeking a lucrative contract next offseason. Any player has the right not to partake in voluntary workouts, of course, but such a decision comes with the expectation of being ready to practice upon reporting to the team facility for mandatory activities.

While the organization’s primary focus remains on what Pierce will contribute this season and there’s plenty of time for the 26-year-old to get himself in shape before the start of training camp in late July, the unintended message he delivered Tuesday was one of caution to the Ravens or any other team potentially interested in signing him to a long-term deal.

“It’s a problem, absolutely,” Harbaugh said. “We want guys practicing. We want them ready to practice, physically able to practice. That’s very important.”

Meanwhile, Judon worked at his usual strong-side outside linebacker position and moved well playing the run, rushing the passer, and occasionally dropping back into pass coverage. He’s the only returning outside linebacker to have played extensive snaps in last year’s defense after the free-agent departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.

Judon, 26, is seeking his third consecutive season with seven or more sacks, which would put him in position for a major contract.

“He looked like he was in shape,” Harbaugh said. “He played fast and worked hard, knew what he was doing. He looked good.”

Left guard surprise

The competition at left guard is expected to be one of the more intriguing position battles this summer, but few would have predicted third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor earning the first opportunity.

With Alex Lewis still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and James Hurst working with the second-string offensive line, Eluemunor practiced as the first-team left guard Tuesday and manned the spot during voluntary organized team activities. The 2017 fifth-round pick made two starts at right guard and appeared in eight games as a rookie, but he was waived last September and spent a month on the practice squad before making his way back to the active roster. The 24-year-old appeared in nine games and made one start in place of an injured Ronnie Stanley at left tackle last season.

“I think each year, each practice, he’s had some good growth,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He played as a rookie. That’s tough. We put him in a very difficult situation, but he responded well. Last year, he played again at tackle. He can play left tackle. This guy is athletic. He’s another big guy that can move and that’s very athletic.

“I just saw continued growth, and I said, ‘Give him a chance.’ So, I put him back in at [left] guard, and he’s doing a real nice job there. We’ll see how it all pans out.”

In addition to Eluemunor, Lewis, and Hurst, second-year interior lineman Bradley Bozeman and fourth-round rookie Ben Powers are also expected to be in the mix at left guard, which is exactly the way D’Alessandris prefers it. Lewis began last season as the starter before neck and shoulder injuries limited him to 10 games, opening the door for Hurst, Bozeman, and former Raven Hroniss Grasu to start games at left guard.

With Lewis entering the final year of his rookie deal and having played in just 20 games in his first three seasons because of injuries, left guard appears to be wide open.

“I think that’s how football should be. I think give everyone the chance,” D’Alessandris said. “Between now and our opener, we don’t know what’s going to happen per player. Let’s let each day take its course, and let’s see how each player plays. Usually, the cream surfaces to the top at the very end.”

Attendance

In addition to Pierce and Lewis, three others were not participating in Tuesday’s workout. That included first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones, and rookie guard Patrick Mekari.

Harbaugh confirmed Jones is dealing with a non-football health issue, even going as far as revealing the former Gilman star had “an episode” a few months ago. The Ravens have not disclosed the condition, and neither Jones nor head athletic trainer Ron Medlin have been made available to reporters.

“He’s not cleared to practice at this time because of that,” Harbaugh said. “We do expect him back for training camp as far as I’ve been told, but I think there are tests and things like that that he has to pass.”

For the second straight week, Brown was working off to the side as he moves closer to his expected return for the start of training camp.

Safety Tony Jefferson participated for roughly 75 minutes Tuesday in what was his first practice since his January ankle surgery.

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yanda

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Looking at Ravens’ non-participants at voluntary OTAs

Posted on 10 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will conduct their three-day mandatory minicamp this week, meaning we’ll witness the 2019 on-field debut of a handful of players who’ve yet to take part in workouts in Owings Mills this spring.

Organized team activities are voluntary, of course, but the seven players who didn’t participate in any of the three sessions open to media had different reasons, ranging from injuries and simple veteran preference to contract status.

Below is a look at each of the seven players who didn’t participate in any of the three OTA days open to reporters on May 23, May 30, and June 6:

S Tony Jefferson

A regular observer on the sideline during voluntary workouts, Jefferson was held out following ankle surgery in January, but there’s no concern regarding his status for training camp and he could even see some practice time this week. The 27-year-old is being counted on to help pick up the leadership slack after the offseason departures of defensive veterans Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley, so his presence at the training facility while working his way back to full strength hasn’t gone unnoticed.

G Marshal Yanda

Entering his 13th year after some speculation about his football future this offseason, Yanda skipping voluntary workouts to prepare on his own is hardly a new development as the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has earned that right more than any other player on the current roster. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in years, the 34-year-old Yanda knows how to get himself ready for the regular season and the Ravens will naturally be careful with his workload in the summer.

OLB Matthew Judon

Baltimore’s only established outside linebacker remaining from last season and entering the final year of his contract, Judon skipping voluntary OTAs wasn’t surprising as countless players across the NFL make similar business decisions. The Ravens would like to reach a long-term extension with the 2016 fifth-round pick who’s appeared in all 32 games and collected 15 sacks over the last two seasons, but the always-increasing price of edge rushers will make it challenging to keep Judon from hitting the market.

DT Michael Pierce

Pierce is in the same position as Judon as he enters the final season of his rookie deal and has received praise from publications such as Pro Football Focus despite playing 400 or more snaps only once in his first three years. Pierce should have opportunities to grow his free-agent value if he can step up as a pass rusher this coming year, but how the defensive tackle situation shakes out next offseason will be interesting as Brandon Williams will be entering the fourth year of his $52.5 million contract.

WR Marquise Brown

The Ravens said all along the 2019 first-round pick wasn’t expected to be on the practice field until training camp after undergoing Lisfranc surgery, but he was working off to the side during last week’s open OTA and has been in the building. Still, at least some uneasiness about the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver’s foot will linger until we see him showing that tremendous speed against the Baltimore secondary. The 22-year-old will need as many reps as he can get with Lamar Jackson this summer.

CB/PR Cyrus Jones

The former Gilman star’s status remains fuzzy as he’s reportedly been dealing with an unspecified illness this spring, but the Ravens’ remarkable depth at the cornerback position makes it important for Jones to get back on the practice field to reaffirm his defensive value in addition to what he brings as a return specialist. The 25-year-old would strengthen his grip on a roster spot by emerging as the primary kick returner in addition to handling punts.

G Alex Lewis

The 2016 fourth-round pick looked like a draft steal early in his rookie season, but multiple injuries have limited Lewis to just 20 games in his first three years and he’s currently recovering from shoulder surgery. A healthy Lewis is perfectly capable of winning the left guard competition, but the 27-year-old is entering the last year of his rookie deal while the likes of James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, and rookie fourth-round selection Ben Powers remain under contract beyond 2019, which works against Lewis.

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thomas

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

Posted on 30 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ota

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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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alexlewis

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Ravens finished with fewest adjusted games lost in 2018

Posted on 14 May 2019 by Luke Jones

While Lamar Jackson and a top-ranked defense received much of the credit for a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence last season, the Ravens enjoying their best health in years certainly didn’t hurt.

Finishing 2018 with only seven players on injured reserve, it’s no secret Baltimore avoided major injuries on its way to the AFC North championship. According to at least one metric, however, John Harbaugh’s team was the healthiest in the NFL after being one of the teams most impacted by injuries in 2017.

You often see the number of players on injured reserve cited in these types of discussions, but that alone doesn’t really offer the most insightful picture from team to team. How many on IR were starters compared to rotation players, special-teams contributors, or merely training camp bodies who had no chance of making the roster before getting hurt? How many on each team went to IR in September as opposed to the final weeks of the regular season? What about teams that had more players pushing through injuries than those having relatively clean injury reports most weeks?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to attempt to quantify just how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost for each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and also considers those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing at less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of a Pro Bowl player or starter the same as a developmental player essentially being stashed on IR and doesn’t ignore players competing with ailments that could limit performance levels.

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost in 2018 (29.7) and their lowest total since 2011 when they finished 12-4 and advanced to the AFC championship game. While running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Willie Henry were the most notable Baltimore players finishing the season on IR, offensive linemen Alex Lewis (6.9) and James Hurst (6.3), quarterback Joe Flacco (4.0), and defensive backs Marlon Humphrey (2.9) and Tony Jefferson (2.9) also counted in the total calculation.

Six of the 10 teams with the fewest adjusted games lost made the postseason while just three of the 12 teams with the most adjusted games lost qualified, reinforcing how critical health is to success. “Next man up” is a popular rallying cry and a nice slogan for a t-shirt, but there are only so many injuries most teams can survive before chances for success are crippled.

“Everything transfers to the field. I heard somebody once say they don’t want the credit when things go right, and they don’t want the blame when things go wrong,” strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders said last month. “Certainly, there is always some luck involved with injuries, but I think our guys prepare and train really hard, probably harder than anybody. I think it’s definitely a positive factor. We just want to keep building on that each season.”

Below is a look at where the Ravens have finished in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2018 – 29.7 (fewest in NFL)
2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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Jackson’s development headlines pronounced transition for Ravens

Posted on 17 April 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco practicing for the first time as a Denver Bronco more than 1,600 miles away this week, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are in a much different place than they were a year ago.

Before taking over as the starting quarterback in the middle of the season and helping lead Baltimore to its first AFC North championship in six years, Jackson was just winding down the pre-draft process at this time last year, still unsure where his NFL journey would begin. The 22-year-old sighed in relief and laughed Tuesday as he was reminded of that “exhausting” time before former general manager Ozzie Newsome made him the 32nd overall pick of the 2018 draft.

Of course, Flacco’s departure is far from the only notable change for the Ravens, who have a new general manager in Eric DeCosta and bid farewell to former Pro Bowl selections C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs as well as 2018 sack leader Za’Darius Smith and two starting wide receivers this offseason. For an idea of just how stark the transition is, five of the six players made available to media for the start of the offseason program last year are no longer with the organization.

But all eyes are on Jackson, in terms of his development entering his second season and how that impacts the revamped Ravens’ chances of repeating as division champions after so many roster changes.

“If you were to study how [players] walk into the building as a rookie and then how they walk into the building as a second-year player, you’ll see a huge difference,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “I know it was for me [in Arizona], and I know it was for a lot of the rookies last year.

“Lamar is our quarterback. It’s his team. We’re following his lead. We know how big of a leader he can be and how special he can be on the football field. We’re dependent on him, and we know he’s putting in the work that’s needed.”

There was much intrigue about Jackson’s offseason as he worked with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris in Florida for the second straight offseason. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound quaterback said he worked five days per week and threw to a group of wide receivers that included Ravens teammate and 2018 fifth-round pick Jordan Lasley and former Louisville teammate Jaylen Smith, who projects as a late-round pick in this year’s draft.

It’s no secret Jackson needs to improve his accuracy after completing just 58.2 percent of his passes as a rookie and 57 percent over his three seasons at Louisville. His offseason focus has been on maintaining a wide base in his legs — a point of emphasis with Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban — and throwing more out-breaking routes after he showed much more accuracy with passes over the middle of the field to his tight ends and slot receiver Willie Snead.

Asked to play meaningful games for a contending team and operating out of an offense that wasn’t fully built around him, Jackson acknowledged the breakdown of his passing mechanics and footwork that would lead to off-target throws during his rookie season. Refining those mechanics will be key in maximizing the special speed and athleticism he displays at the quarterback position.

“It had a lot to do with it,” said Jackson of his fundamentals. “I would probably get lazy, try to make things happen with just my arm, not following through with my leg, and it showed a lot. I would throw an inaccurate ball.”

With the Ravens still a few weeks away from beginning organized team activities, it’s difficult to gauge how much progress Jackson has made as a passer from last year. After saying he was throwing “a lot better” this offseason, even Jackson acknowledged the test won’t begin until OTAs and beyond. He and his teammates will also be learning a new offense as coordinator Greg Roman has rebuilt the system “from the ground up” to best suit the young quarterback.

Still, teammates have observed a more confident Jackson seemingly at ease with the great responsibility of knowing he’s the starting quarterback from the first day of voluntary workouts. Perhaps the best indicator of that demeanor is the impression he’s made with new Ravens running back Mark Ingram, who played eight seasons with Drew Brees. Ingram said Jackson has already picked his brain about the future Hall of Fame quarterback as the two shared the same flight to Baltimore this week.

“He wants to get here early, get in the film room, study,” Ingram said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s just a good dude. He’s fun to be around. He’s one of the guys. That’s very refreshing to be able to see that from him — that he’s young, but he still is mature. He’s mature, has his mind right, wants to study film, wants to be the best quarterback he can be and the best player he can be.

“I think the sky is the limit for him.”

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Ravens release Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle

Posted on 05 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have moved on from one of the veteran leaders of their top-ranked defense.

Six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was released on Tuesday, ending his three-year run in Baltimore. The 34-year-old was entering the final season of a four-year, $26 million contract, but his departure will now save $7.5 million on the 2019 salary cap while also leaving a void at the safety position. Weddle was scheduled to carry a $9.25 million cap figure for 2019.

Multiple coaches and teammates credited Weddle’s football intellect as a major reason for an increasingly-deceptive defense finishing first in total yards allowed, second in points allowed, and fifth in passing yards allowed last season. However, he registered a career-low three pass breakups and no interceptions after collecting a combined 21 pass breakups and 10 interceptions in his first two seasons with the Ravens. That left a difficult decision for general manager Eric DeCosta weighing Weddle’s intangibles against his advancing age, physical decline, and high price tag.

Acknowledging an uncertain future the day after the season-ending playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Weddle originally said he didn’t plan on playing for another team if the Ravens released him, but he backed off that proclamation later that month at the Pro Bowl, an early indication the sides disagreed on his value for the upcoming season. The former San Diego Charger becomes the second cap casualty of the offseason for the Ravens after wide receiver Michael Crabtree was cut late last month.

How the Ravens plan to address safety remains to be seen with starter Tony Jefferson, veteran dime back Anthony Levine, and former sixth-round picks Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott the only players at the position currently on the roster. The open market is rich with options ranging from Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas to Landon Collins and Adrian Amos, but there’s always the possibility — even if unlikely — of a reunion with Weddle at a lower rate, something the Ravens did with Lardarius Webb two years ago.

Upon signing with Baltimore in 2016, Weddle brought stability to a safety position that had been a revolving door since the departure of Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Early-round draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks were busts while veteran free agents such as Michael Huff, Darian Stewart, Kendrick Lewis, and Will Hill didn’t work out in the three years following Super Bowl XLVII, often leaving the Ravens with communication problems in the secondary. After finishing 30th in the NFL in takeaways in 2015, Baltimore finished tied for fourth in 2016 and first in 2017 with Weddle bringing stability to the back end of the defense. Weddle was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons with the Ravens.

Widely praised for his leadership and even affectionately called “coach” by teammates, Weddle may not be the only key defensive veteran to depart this offseason as linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs remain unsigned a week before the start of free agency. Versatile pass rusher Za’Darius Smith and defensive end Brent Urban are other significant defensive players who are unrestricted free agents.

NFL Network first reported the Ravens’ decision to release Weddle.

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