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Twelve Ravens thoughts on training camp preparations and other topics

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens coaches returning to the Owings Mills headquarters this week and the NFL releasing protocols for training facilities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The July 28 report date for training camp is seven weeks away, but much work remains regarding COVID-19 protocols. The recent expansion and renovations of the team facility helps, but spacing lockers six feet apart for a 90-man roster will be quite a challenge by itself.

2. NFL Network’s report on the possibility of the preseason schedule being shortened was hardly a surprise since there was growing support for that long before the pandemic. The bigger question might be whether that sparks permanent change to the exhibition schedule.

3. Pittsburgh moving its camp to Heinz Field raises a fair question for teams that already struggled to find space for 90 players before even factoring in social distancing. A shorter preseason makes you wonder if that high number is absolutely necessary if you want to minimize health risks. Difficult questions.

4. Patrick Queen, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison are the only 2020 Ravens draft picks yet to sign, but we’re approaching the time when you’d expect those rookie deals to get done. Of course, the pandemic could always complicate that timing.

5. Social media hardly provides a complete picture of the work so many players are putting in right now, but James Proche has logged recent workouts with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Trace McSorley. Good for the sixth-round rookie wide receiver getting acquainted with Baltimore quarterbacks.

6. You won’t find a more respected person in the organization than tight ends coach Bobby Engram, who was nominated for the PFWA’s George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to succeed. I recommend this piece from The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec if you’re unfamiliar with the Engram family’s story.

7. The value of the return specialist isn’t what it used to be due to rule changes in the game, but I can’t recall the last time we weren’t talking about that spot being a question mark around this time of year. The days of Jacoby Jones?

8. In contrast, Sam Koch is the only player to have any punts for the Ravens since 2006 and Justin Tucker is the only one to make a field goal since 2012. That continuity is just remarkable compared to most teams. Tennessee had four different kickers last season alone.

9. We’ve talked so much about inside linebacker the last couple years that I couldn’t help but notice Ravens coaching analyst and former player Zach Orr celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He thankfully escaped football without serious injury, but you wonder how much better he might have become.

10. Dick Cass, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Calais Campbell, and Queen were among the current and former Ravens joining over 1,400 sports figures in signing a letter to Congress requesting an end to qualified immunity. I applaud them for making their voices heard.

11. Have you ever imagined what might have happened if Baltimore signed Colin Kaepernick? Does he replace a Joe Flacco who had a bad back in 2017? Reunited with Greg Roman, does Kaepernick thrive and keep the starting job? Does Lamar Jackson then wind up elsewhere? Quite the potential butterfly effect.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for putting out the following video for high school and college graduates. We all had different school experiences, but I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy those final weeks or to celebrate these accomplishments with friends and family.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown run against the New England Patriots with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Sizing up the 2020 Ravens’ 90-man roster during spring workouts

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a better idea of what the organization has to work with preparing for the 2020 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any individual player. We normally get a better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities, but the absence of on-site organized team activities complicates that evaluation, especially for newcomers.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player or a long shot at this point as much will change as the Ravens move closer to the season. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and other spots enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

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

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as 53-man roster projections at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Tyler Huntley
Skinny: The nature of this offense makes it more likely that Baltimore keeps a third quarterback for a third straight year, but the uncertainty of the offseason likely compromises McSorley’s quest to unseat Griffin as the primary backup or the mobile Huntley’s chances of sticking as the No. 3 option.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (6)
IN: Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Bronson Rechsteiner
Skinny: The second-round selection of Dobbins makes this a very crowded room and could even prompt a trade if the right offer comes along later this summer, but there’s too much talent, diversity, and value in the top four tailbacks to believe any would be cut from the 53-man roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
IN: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: De’Anthony Thomas, Jaleel Scott
LONG SHOT: Antoine Wesley, Michael Dereus, Jaylon Moore
Skinny: Special teams will ultimately sort out the back end of this position group, but DeCosta trading a 2021 fifth-round pick to draft Proche elevates the roster standing of a sixth-round pick, which is usually viewed as being firmly on the bubble.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle
BUBBLE: Jacob Breeland, Charles Scarff
LONG SHOT: Eli Wolf
Skinny: There’s little doubt the Ravens will want a viable third tight end on the roster after trading former first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but we’ll see whether Scarff’s experience as a 2019 practice-squad member, Breeland’s upside, or even a future veteran signing will prevail in the competition.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari, D.J. Fluker, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson, Tyre Phillips
BUBBLE: Andre Smith
LONG SHOT: Daishawn Dixon, R.J. Prince, Will Holden, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Sean Pollard, Evan Adams
Skinny: Fluker’s experience makes him the early favorite to replace the retired Marshal Yanda at right guard in the midst of an uncertain offseason, but there are several young options to try to sort out a cloudy interior offensive picture and a backup tackle must emerge behind Stanley and Brown.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington
BUBBLE: Daylon Mack, Justin Ellis
LONG SHOT: Aaron Crawford
Skinny: The top five are seemingly set, but a backup nose tackle job could be up for grabs between Mack — who saw only nine defensive snaps as a fifth-round rookie last year — and the 29-year-old Ellis, who played sparingly down the stretch after being signed last November.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort
BUBBLE: Chris Board, Otaro Alaka, Jake Ryan
LONG SHOT: Kristian Welch
Skinny: The complexion of this group changed dramatically with the early selections of Queen and Harrison in last month’s draft, but the competition for a potential fourth inside linebacker spot could be interesting.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (10)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Mike Onuoha, John Daka, Chauncey Rivers, Marcus Willoughby
Skinny: The long-term outlook for this group remains very murky with Judon, McPhee, Ward, and Bowser only under contract through the upcoming season, which opens the door for one of the long shots to force his way into the roster conversation and challenge someone like Bowser for a spot.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Iman Marshall
LONG SHOT: Terrell Bonds, Khalil Dorsey, Jeff Hector, Josh Nurse
Skinny: There may not be another team in the league that can match Baltimore’s top four on paper, but the injury history of both Young and Smith still makes it critical to have more quality depth and improves the roster chances of Marshall, who is coming off a disappointing rookie campaign.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Earl Thomas, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott, Geno Stone, Jordan Richards
LONG SHOT: Nigel Warrior
Skinny: You could argue Elliott and Stone being closer to locks than true bubble players, but injuries have limited the former to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two seasons and assuming a seventh-round pick — even one as interesting as Stone — is safely on a deep roster feels a bit too bold.

SPECIALISTS (6)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Nick Moore, Dom Maggio, Nick Vogel
Skinny: There isn’t much to say about this veteran group, but the three youngsters will each be learning from former Pro Bowl selections at their positions, which should improve their chances of catching on with other NFL teams by the end of the preseason.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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How did Ravens quarterbacks stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 03 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens quarterbacks ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

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

Lamar Jackson
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,068
PFF ranking: fifth among quarterbacks
Skinny: That one could very fairly question the league MVP’s PFF ranking speaks to how remarkable his improvement was in his age-22 season. You’re well aware of his many record-breaking accomplishments by now, but Jackson leading the NFL in touchdown passes despite ranking 26th in pass attempts and ranking sixth overall in rushing despite finishing 23rd in carries will stand out for many years to come.

Robert Griffin III
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 139
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Rarely do you see a backup play so many snaps without there being an injury to the starter or a quarterback controversy, but Griffin appeared in seven games and started one. His skill set and career experiences make him a solid backup and mentor for Jackson, but his play wasn’t a strong statement to be a starter elsewhere as his PFF grade would have ranked next to last among qualified quarterbacks.

Trace McSorley
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The sixth-round rookie from Penn State showed growth from spring workouts to the preseason where he threw four touchdowns compared to two interceptions, but he was inactive for all games but the regular-season finale, making the coming spring and summer a critical time in his development.

2020 positional outlook

Is there a better quarterback situation in the NFL when you have the reigning MVP under inexpensive team control for the next three seasons? Like virtually any other team with an elite quarterback, the Ravens would likely be in deep trouble in the event of a long-term absence for Jackson, but having two reserves with the athletic traits to be able to operate this unique run-first offense eases some concern about a shorter-term injury. While we’ll ponder all offseason whether Jackson can still hit another level in his development — a terrifying thought for the rest of the league — it will be interesting to see if McSorley will seriously challenge Griffin for the backup spot with the latter under contract and scheduled to make a $2 million base salary in 2020. That’s very reasonable for a No. 2 quarterback, but the Ravens didn’t keep McSorley on the 53-man roster for what amounted to a redshirt year if they didn’t think he could be the primary backup of the future, whether that’s for the coming season or 2021.

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Ravens to rest Jackson, other veterans for regular-season finale

Posted on 23 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Ravens will keep the expected NFL MVP and several key veterans out of harm’s way in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced quarterback Lamar Jackson, running back Mark Ingram, right guard Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams are among those who won’t play against the Steelers on Sunday. At least a couple others are expected to be added to that list this week as Ravens players return to the team facility on Christmas Eve.

With Jackson having already locked up the MVP award in the eyes of most as the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a single season, there was just no compelling upside to playing him compared to exposing him to even the slightest risk of an injury. For what it’s worth, more than three weeks lapsed from the 22-year-old’s final preseason snaps until Week 1 when he threw five touchdowns and produced a perfect passer rating.

Acknowledging the balance between resting players and keeping them sharp for what the organization hopes will be a long postseason run next month, Harbaugh is choosing not to expose his best players to even a small chance of injury in a game carrying no tangible value to Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations. The 12th-year head coach has never been in this position before, but he rested multiple starters in Week 17 of the 2012 season after the Ravens had clinched the AFC North division championship the previous week and had only a small chance to move up from the fourth spot to the No. 3 seed in the playoff field.

“I talked to a few guys on the plane. Marshal was the main guy that I had some time talking to about it,” Harbaugh said. “I feel confident that everybody is on board. I talked to the coordinators, assistant head coach [David Culley], and [director of football research] Scott Cohen was involved in that today.

“It was pretty straight forward. It’s not really hard. It’s not a hard decision really if you really sit back on it and think about it. It’s a solid decision.”

Veteran backup Robert Griffin III will start at quarterback against the Steelers, but Harbaugh left open the possibility of rookie sixth-round pick Trace McSorley also seeing playing time.

Though many pundits and fans are referring to Sunday’s game as a glorified preseason game from the Ravens’ perspective, Harbaugh doesn’t have the luxury of a 90-man roster to navigate 60 minutes of play like he does in August. With only seven players deactivated for games, many veterans will still see action, but you’d expect workloads to be eased for select starters.

“We’re very healthy, so that does bode well,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Ravens will play to win with all players active against the playoff-hopeful Steelers. “It will be an opportunity for some guys to play who have been inactive, so that’s a big plus for us. It gives some guys some experience, and we’ll just roll with it.”

Harbaugh acknowledged there being merit to the other side of the debate suggesting a team already holding a first-round bye is in danger of losing its edge with too long a layoff from live-game action. It’s a fair concern that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy without taking the proper measures, but the practice schedule, mental preparation, and how players take care of their bodies over the next couple weeks carry more weight than playing an arbitrary numbers of snaps — and risking injury — in an inconsequential game that’s still two full weeks before the divisional round. In other words, there’s still much time to collect rust if you’re not managing those other variables wisely, no matter how you handle the Week 17 game itself.

Harbaugh confirmed all healthy players will practice this week and during the bye.

“Our goal is to be the very best football team we can become for that divisional game,” Harbaugh said. “We have a number of practices between now and then, and we have to make the most of every practice, every rep, every meeting, everything we do to be a much better football team than we are right now.”

If the Ravens were unsure how to handle the regular-season finale, seeing Ingram exit with a left calf injury early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win in Cleveland probably ended the debate.

Harbaugh described the results of Ingram’s MRI as “good news” after the Pro Bowl running back suffered the non-contact injury, but his status will be one of the major questions going into the postseason. Second-year running back Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill will handle greater workloads against Pittsburgh, but the Ravens remain hopeful that Ingram will be ready for the second weekend in January.

“He has a mild-to-moderate calf strain, so he won’t play this week,” Harbaugh said. “He probably wouldn’t play this week no matter what the circumstance was with that calf strain. We’d be looking for him to be ready in two weeks, so we’ll see how that goes going forward.”

2020 opponents revealed

With first place in each of the four AFC divisions now decided, the Ravens’ slate of 2020 opponents has been finalized.

Already scheduled to play the entire AFC South and NFC East divisions next season, Baltimore officially learned it will host AFC West champion Kansas City and travel to AFC East-winning New England.

HOME: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Dallas, New York Giants, Kansas City

AWAY: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Washington, New England

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Lamar Jackson misses Thursday’s Ravens practice due to illness

Posted on 07 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson missed Thursday’s practice with an illness that isn’t expected to jeopardize his availability for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.

Jackson was the second Baltimore player to miss practice due to being under the weather this week after seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda didn’t participate in Wednesday’s workout. It’s never ideal for your starting quarterback to miss practice time three days before a game, but the Ravens are preparing to face a winless Bengals team ranking last in the NFL in total defense and rush defense, which should ease concerns. Baltimore is aiming for its first season sweep of Cincinnati since 2011 after winning 23-17 at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 6.

Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley did his usual work on the scout-team special-teams units as No. 2 quarterback Robert Griffin III threw passes to tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle during the media viewing portion of practice, another indication that the Ravens expect Jackson to be OK to play on Sunday.

Coincidentally, the only other time Jackson has missed a regular-season practice in his brief NFL career was the Thursday prior to his first start against the Bengals last November, which was also because of illness. Two of Jackson’s four career 100-yard rushing performances have come against Cincinnati, including his career-high 152-yard outburst on Oct. 13.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday wearing a brace on his left knee after tweaking it in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over New England.

After receiving a veteran day off on Wednesday, safety Earl Thomas was listed as limited as he continues to nurse a minor knee issue. Wide receiver Chris Moore was limited with a left thumb injury for the second straight day and didn’t attempt to catch any passes with that hand during the portion of practice open to the media.

A day after suffering a setback with the ankle injury that’s sidelined him since the start of training camp, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has all but ruled himself out for Week 10. Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor indicated Green was ready to make his season debut prior to Wednesday’s practice, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection is experiencing swelling in his ankle that’s prevented him from practicing this week. It’s another tough blow for a struggling team whose chances for Sunday’s game already weren’t great with rookie fourth-round quarterback Ryan Finley making his first NFL start.

Green, a 2011 first-round pick who’s given the Ravens defense significant problems over the years, is in the final year of his contract.

“I’m a competitor. I want to play, but sometimes you go through these bumps in the road that you’ve got to stay focused,” Green told reporters in Cincinnati on Thursday. “You’ve got to look at the long-term picture. I’ve got to make sure I can play for another five years without having to worry about this thing, not just thinking of the now.”

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), S Earl Thomas (knee), G Marshal Yanda (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (ankle), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), G Alex Redmond (knee/ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Denard (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (non-injury), OT Cordy Glenn (concussion), DE Carl Lawson (hamstring), G John Miller (groin)

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens begin their 2019 season where they dream it will culminate five months from now.

Miami will host Super Bowl LIV in early February, but the rebuilding Dolphins first stand in the way of a 1-0 start Sunday. The opener is a homecoming for second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both grew up less than 30 miles away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Ravens hope Sunday will be the start of a special connection between the first-round talents in the years to come, but the two did not play together in any preseason games.

After helping lead the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and their first AFC North championship since 2012 as a rookie, Jackson will become the first quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start an opener for Baltimore since the late Steve McNair in 2007. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest quarterback to make a season-opening start for the Ravens with only Kyle Boller being younger back in 2003.

As expected, Brown is active and will make his NFL debut after spending much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed the Oklahoma product “full-go” physically at the beginning of the week, but Brown was added to the injury report Thursday and missed Friday’s practice, a reminder that the condition of his foot remains a factor.

Despite not playing in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb, Robert Griffin III is active and will serve as the backup quarterback a day after his wife gave birth to their daughter. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley is inactive.

Third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson headlines the list of remaining inactives for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was complimentary of Ferguson’s late-summer improvement earlier this week, but he is fifth in the pecking order at the edge rusher position and has yet to carve out a role on special teams, making his deactivation less surprising.

The Ravens also deactivated rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, leaving them lighter in the trenches despite the Miami heat. That will be a real factor to watch over the course of the afternoon with just four true defensive linemen — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and part-time fullback Patrick Ricard — active.

With Bradley Bozeman expected to start at left guard after working with the starters throughout the week and in the latter stages of the preseason, rookie guard Ben Powers and second-year offensive tackle Greg Senat were healthy scratches. Baltimore will go into Week 1 with veteran James Hurst and rookie Patrick Mekari as backups who’ve shown more versatility.

Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) and safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) are active despite being limited in practices throughout the week.

Sunday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Miami calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90 degrees at kickoff with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. However, it will feel like it’s over 100 degrees on the field Sunday afternoon, a factor to watch over the course of the game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Miami dons white jerseys and white pants at home for Week 1.

Sunday marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-6 lead in the all-time regular-season series. Including the postseason, Harbaugh is 7-1 against Miami.

The Ravens are aiming for their fourth straight season-opening win and are 8-3 in openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
OT Greg Senat
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

MIAMI
CB Ken Webster
Rb Myles Gaskin
RB Patrick Laird
G Shaq Calhoun
OL Chris Reed
OT Isaiah Prince
LB Trent Harris

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Breaking down the 2019 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 31 August 2019 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta will continue to explore other additions and tweaks to the roster with at least a move or two likely before the Sept. 8 opener in Miami, but below is a breakdown of the 53-man roster as it stood Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (3) — Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
Analysis: In a perfect world, the Ravens would have McSorley on their practice squad to use his roster spot elsewhere, but the backup quarterback movement around the league Saturday had to worry DeCosta that the rookie wouldn’t make it through waivers. The growth McSorley showed from spring workouts to the end of the preseason makes you believe he could be the primary backup to Jackson at some point down the road, potential value that couldn’t be ignored.

RUNNING BACKS (3) — Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
Analysis: Ingram was guaranteed $6.5 million at signing to be the feature back, which is why the popular notion that the Ravens needed more than three running backs never really jived. The interesting story line is how involved Hill will be early on after he showed surprising physicality to go with his impressive speed this summer. There are more popular backfields around the league, but there’s plenty to like about this trio, especially with opponents always needing to account for Jackson’s rushing ability.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
Analysis: Snead and Roberts help raise the floor of a group that includes three youngsters who’ve never caught an NFL pass, but you get the sense the Ravens are eager to see Brown and Boykin play and grow with Jackson as much as possible — even early in the season. That’s exciting in theory and there’s more potential here than we’ve seen in some time, but the bright lights of the regular season are a different ballgame than training camp and exhibition games, a reality that should temper expectations.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
Analysis: How offensive coordinator Greg Roman deploys this talented trio will be fascinating to watch with Boyle regarded as one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends, Andrews poised for a breakout year, and a healthy Hurst eager to live up to his first-round billing after an injury-plagued rookie season. Considering the inexperience of the wide receiver group and Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle of the field, the Ravens need the tight ends to be a major part of the passing game.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9) — Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Greg Senat
Analysis: The Ravens have plenty of inventory here, but the question is the quality of that depth behind their four established starters. Left guard is the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball, but the Jermaine Eluemunor trade also raised the question of a reserve left tackle with the hope that Senat will develop behind Stanley. Mekari, a rookie free agent from Cal-Berkeley, had a strong summer to make the team, but this group seems ripe for an outside addition if the right player becomes available.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Patrick Ricard, Daylon Mack
Analysis: The light number here reflects the disappointing summer showings from Willie Henry and Zach Sieler that led to them being waived, but it also speaks to an evolving NFL in which Wink Martindale used his “base” 3-4 defense just 16 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. The Ravens are expected to move Pernell McPhee inside in obvious passing situations, but who among this group is going to consistently make quarterbacks uncomfortable? 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young, Otaro Alaka
Analysis: Onwuasor transitioning to the “Mike” spot and Board receiving the first real defensive snaps of his career make this an interesting group to watch after the Ravens stayed in-house to replace four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley. Alaka is the latest in a long line of undrafted rookie inside linebackers to make the team over the years, so his development will be something to monitor, especially as Onwuasor plays out a contract year. This group lacks experience, but there’s no shortage of speed and athleticism.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Matt Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Jaylon Ferguson
Analysis: McPhee will start at the rush linebacker spot, but he still figures to be more of a situational rusher than a three-down player like Judon, meaning there are plenty of snaps up for grabs among Bowser, Williams, and the rookie Ferguson. All three showed some promise at different points this summer and Martindale is talented enough as a coordinator to make it work, but the Ravens have to be concerned with this group and the pass rush in general, making an outside addition still possible.

CORNERBACKS (7) — Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Iman Marshall
Analysis: Most teams around the NFL would kill to have Baltimore’s top four at this position, but the deep depth took a significant hit with the season-ending neck injury to slot corner Tavon Young. It will be interesting to see how Martindale handles the nickel spot with Carr, Averett, Jones, or even a reserve safety all being options. Already confirmed not to be ready for Week 1, the rookie Marshall could be a candidate for injured reserve with the option of returning later in the season.

SAFETIES (5) — Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott
Analysis: You won’t find a better overall group of safeties in the NFL, which you would hope to be the case considering the cap dollars devoted to this position. The Ravens envision Thomas’ range allowing the cornerbacks to be even more aggressive in pass coverage, leading to more interceptions than last season when they were tied for 18th in the league with 12. Levine remains one of the best dime backs in the league while Clark and Elliott could factor into certain sub packages.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its eighth consecutive season together, a remarkable and rare example of continuity in the NFL.

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Ravens send Dixon, T. Young to IR, keep McSorley in roster cut to 53

Posted on 31 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens set their initial 53-man roster for the 2019 season by placing two notable players on season-ending injured reserve and keeping three quarterbacks for just the second time in the last 10 years.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young had hoped to return later this season from a serious neck injury, but the fourth-year defensive back was placed on IR Saturday, meaning he isn’t eligible to receive one of Baltimore’s two designations to return. Earlier this month, the Ravens medical staff recommended surgery to correct the disc problem and allow Young to resume his career without any lingering concern next season, but the organization gave him time to weigh his options.

Running back Kenneth Dixon was also placed on IR, a move that likely ends his frustrating run with the Ravens. Media and fans had debated the talented and oft-injured Dixon’s future throughout the offseason as he entered the final year of his rookie contract, but it remains unclear what exactly prompted his placement on IR after he rushed 13 times for 66 yards in Thursday’s preseason finale. Dixon had been hobbled at a few points during the summer — including during the final preseason game — but he had been healthy enough to practice pretty consistently during training camp.

For the second consecutive year and only the second time in the last decade, head coach John Harbaugh has three quarterbacks on his initial 53-man roster as the Ravens chose to keep rookie sixth-round pick Trace McSorley. Harbaugh had already stated the organization’s desire to keep McSorley around, but it remained unclear whether general manager Eric DeCosta would risk trying to pass him through waivers and sign him to the practice squad.

The most notable names from a lengthy list of cuts were defensive tackle Willie Henry and cornerback Maurice Canady, who had both played prominent roles in the past and were entering the final year of their rookie contracts. News of Henry’s departure broke Friday after a disappointing preseason, but the Ravens had hoped another team might trade a late-round pick for his services. Meanwhile, Canady had pushed through some nagging injuries this summer and was a victim of the numbers game with Baltimore already having seven cornerbacks on the 53-man roster.

For the 16th consecutive season, the Ravens have kept at least one rookie free agent on the 53-man roster with inside linebacker Otaro Alaka and offensive lineman Patrick Mekari both making the team after good summer showings. All eight members of their 2019 draft class are on the 53-man roster, but injured cornerback Iman Marshall could still be a candidate for IR with the potential to return later in the season, a move that would create a spot for another player like released veteran safety and special-teams standout Brynden Trawick.

Defensive end Zach Sieler, Ozzie Newsome’s final draft pick as general manager last year, was waived after a quiet preseason. Running back De’Lance Turner was also cut, but he appears to be a prime candidate to be re-signed to the practice squad where he can serve as an insurance policy behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill on the active roster.

Below is the full list of moves made to trim the Baltimore roster to 53 players:

Players waived
LB Aaron Adeoye
OT Marcus Applefield
CB Terrell Bonds
CB Maurice Canady
ILB E.J. Ejiya
RB Tyler Ervin
FB Christopher Ezeala (international exemption for practice squad)
DT Willie Henry
TE Cole Herdman
S Bennett Jackson
WR Sean Modster
P Cameron Nizialek (injury settlement)
ILB Donald Payne
G R.J. Prince
TE Charles Scarff
DE Zach Sieler
RB De’Lance Turner
WR Antoine Wesley
DT Gerald Willis

Vested veterans released
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (injure settlement)
S Brynden Trawick

Injured reserve
OL Randin Crecelius
RB Kenneth Dixon
ILB Alvin Jones
DB Fish Smithson
CB Tavon Young

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2019 preseason

Posted on 30 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding another undefeated preseason Thursday night, let’s not stand on ceremony with the opener just over a week away.

Below is my final projection of the initial 53-man roster for the 2019 regular season:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
OUT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley is worth keeping, but John Harbaugh used the word “strategy” in discussing his roster chances Thursday. Eric DeCosta must weigh protecting an intriguing developmental quarterback against trying to pass him through waivers and onto the practice squad to clear an extra roster spot elsewhere. That’s a tricky proposition with how much the rookie flashed this preseason.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: The Ravens know exactly what they have in Dixon — good and bad — so why else would you give an injury-prone back 13 carries and play him well into the second half of the final preseason game if that weren’t a showcase for a trade? Turner finished with 94 yards on 22 touches Thursday and plays special teams, but he looks more like a quality insurance policy to stash on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
OUT: Michael Floyd, Antoine Wesley, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott did everything he could to make the team and has shown marked improvement, making him worth keeping despite being low on the depth chart. Floyd joining Roberts as a healthy scratch Thursday was curious, but the Ravens did the same with Albert McClellan in last year’s preseason finale before cutting him two days later, meaning you shouldn’t read too much into that with a veteran.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
OUT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: There’s less intrigue here than with any other offensive or defensive position group, but Scarff appears to be a likely target to sign to the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
OUT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: This group is the most likely to see an outside addition between now and the opener, especially if an upgrade at left guard or a serviceable swing tackle becomes available. The trade of Jermaine Eluemunor opened the door for Senat to possibly steal a spot as a reserve tackle, but he committed two holding penalties in the opening quarter Thursday and Mekari took some snaps at left tackle in addition to playing right guard and center, the kind of versatility that really helps his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack, Willie Henry
OUT: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Henry didn’t show much in the preseason and played deep into the fourth quarter Thursday, which would raise a bigger red flag if Sieler or Willis had shown more over the course of the summer. If you’re looking for a candidate to be an out-of-nowhere cut, Henry might fit that description since he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, but the need for interior pass rushers is too great to give up on someone who showed such promise in that area two years ago.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
OUT: Otaro Alaka, Donald Payne, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka still gets caught out of position and needs to improve his awareness, but he has a heck of a motor and made his share of plays this summer, making it tough to leave him off the initial 53-man roster. The increasing use of the dime package diminishes the need for a fourth inside linebacker, however, and the Ravens will want to protect their secondary depth for now, making Alaka a practice-squad target as Onwuasor was after being waived at the conclusion of his rookie preseason.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
OUT: Shane Ray, Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: Ray was a perfectly fine low-risk, moderate-reward signing in mid-May, but the promise he showed early in his career with Denver was nowhere to be found this summer. This position group still doesn’t inspire much confidence going into the season, making an outside addition possible if the right opportunity comes along for DeCosta.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Tavon Young
OUT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Iman Marshall
Skinny: If the Ravens want to keep Young eligible for a potential designation to return from injured reserve later this season, he must be on the initial 53-man roster, complicating the overall decision-making process. Canady is the shakiest call beyond that, but Bethel and Jones are primarily special-teams contributors, which somewhat inflates the overall number here.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
OUT: Brynden Trawick, Bennett Jackson, Fish Smithson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams acumen improves his roster chances substantially, but his status as a vested veteran makes him a candidate to be re-signed when Young is placed on IR or even after Week 1 when his contract will no longer be guaranteed for the full season. Jackson would have had a better chance to stick if this weren’t such a deep group.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek, Elliott Fry
Skinny: There’s nothing to see here, but the struggles of Kaare Vedvik in Minnesota have made any complaints about DeCosta trading him for a fifth-round pick that much sillier. Perhaps the Vikings would have benefited from a Google search on Vedvik’s spring performance before so eagerly pulling the trigger after the first preseason game, but the Ravens certainly won’t lose sleep over that.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

Posted on 28 August 2019 by Luke Jones

One preseason game remains before the Ravens turn all attention toward Miami and the start of the 2019 regular season, but the stakes remain high for some against Washington.

Despite what the preseason finale may lack in entertainment value, Thursday represents the final chance for those players on the bubble and even the longest of long shots at the bottom of the roster to make a strong enough impression to earn a job or at least keep their NFL dream alive somewhere else. That reality isn’t lost on the coaching staff even as Week 1 preparations for the Dolphins ramped up this week.

Most spots on the 53-man roster will have already been determined before Thursday’s kickoff, but there’s room for a surprise every now and then.

“They’re fighting for their livelihoods,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Anybody that plays on Thursday is fighting for their livelihood. Let’s not forget Michael Pierce, his rookie year, made the team after the fourth game of the preseason against New Orleans because he wrecked that game. Things like that happen.”

Head coach John Harbaugh will be watching Chris Horton’s special-teams units closely as contributions in that phase often serve as a tiebreaker among reserves bringing comparable value at their individual positions. It’s long been the path to a roster spot for late-round draft picks, undrafted free agents, or castoffs from other teams who can even work their way into more meaningful roles over time.

Embracing that mindset is critical.

“When the guys come in, I tell them, ‘The way you’re going to make it is special teams,'” veteran defensive back Anthony Levine said. “And when you first come in the league, you’re not trying to hear that. When I first came in the league, I wasn’t trying to hear that. ‘Special teams? I wasn’t playing that in college. What are you talking about?’

“But I got around guys who were special teams guys, and they showed me the way.”

Thursday marks the 12th time the Ravens and Washington will meet in the preseason with Baltimore enjoying an 8-3 edge. The all-time regular-season series is tied at 3-3.

The Ravens own a 36-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won an amazing 16 in a row, a streak going back to the beginning of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the many veteran starters expected to be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference in the exhibition finale.

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

OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), CB Tavon Young (neck), CB Iman Marshall (thigh), OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Seth Roberts, OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (foot), G Jermaine Eluemunor, OT Greg Senat, DT Gerald Willis, OLB Tim Williams

Five bubble players to watch Thursday night

QB Trace McSorley

Harbaugh said the rookie from Penn State “definitely earned the right” to be part of their plans, but he stopped short of confirming McSorley would be on the 53-man roster. The Ravens have carried three quarterbacks going into a season just once in the last nine years, but Lamar Jackson’s playing style and the nature of this offense make it easy to argue for keeping an additional quarterback. Despite practicing on special teams, McSorley would likely be a game-day inactive if he does make the team, but the preseason flashes he’s shown might make it difficult to get him through waivers and onto the practice squad. If you believe he can at least develop into a legitimate backup, enough value is there to keep him.

ILB Otaro Alaka

Alaka appears to be the most likely choice to extend the Ravens’ impressive streak of keeping at least one rookie free agent on the 53-man roster to a 16th consecutive year, but this is hardly a lock. Baltimore must decide if a fourth inside linebacker is necessary behind starters Patrick Onwuasor and Chris Board and top reserve Kenny Young, but the lack of experience in that position group might make keeping Alaka more appealing, especially with Onwuasor hitting free agency next winter. Alaka started 45 games at Texas A&M and has physical tools that should translate at the next level, but he can put an exclamation point on his case with a good performance on defense and on special teams Thursday.

WR Seth Roberts

We may not even see Roberts play against Washington, but that decision could tell us where he stands on the 53-man roster. There appeared to be little doubt about his place on the team early in camp as he took extensive snaps with the starting offense and consistently made catches, but an injury in the preseason opener, the summer emergence of Miles Boykin and Chris Moore, and the much-awaited debut of Marquise Brown have complicated Roberts’ status. His blocking ability and production in Oakland would raise the floor of a wide receiver group lacking experience, but the Ravens’ desire to play their rookies could leave few snaps for a veteran like Roberts, who’s played little on special teams in his career.

S Brynden Trawick

Despite ranking as one of the league’s best special-teams units again last year, the Ravens weren’t thrilled with their personnel, a reason why they signed cornerback and three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player Justin Bethel early in free agency. Trawick would also fit into that special-teams department after being named to the 2017 Pro Bowl as a member of the Tennessee Titans, but the Ravens are already committed to carrying a large number of defensive backs and he wouldn’t project as more than a reserve dime back on the defense. How the Ravens proceed with injured cornerbacks Tavon Young and Iman Marshall and bubble corner Maurice Canady could ultimately decide Trawick’s fate.

WR Michael Floyd

The former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals was no more than a long shot for the 53-man roster earlier this month, but a string of strong practices and a good performance in the preseason win over Philadelphia last week have at least moved Floyd back into the conversation. The 29-year-old has looked more explosive recently, but he is far removed from his productive seasons with the Cardinals and hasn’t done enough to make you think he’s even surpassed Roberts, let alone anyone else to secure a place on the roster. Floyd is more realistically playing for an opportunity elsewhere than for a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, but that makes Thursday no less important for him.

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