OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As general manager Eric DeCosta explores potential moves prior to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, the Ravens remain optimistic about their health coming out of the bye week.
Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated his expectation that wide receiver Marquise Brown (right ankle), inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (right ankle), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (right knee) will make their respective returns for Sunday night’s meeting with undefeated New England. Brown and Onwuasor haven’t played since the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh while Smith has been sidelined since the season opener in Miami.
“They’re on track, yes. We’ll see how it goes this week,” Harbaugh said. “I’m pretty confident that they’ll be there, but you never know.”
While Brown and Onwuasor haven’t practiced since finishing the Steelers game at less than 100 percent, Smith returned to practice on a limited basis two weeks ago, wearing a brace on his right knee in the portion of workouts open to media. His return coupled with the acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters two weeks ago would give Baltimore significant reinforcements for the second half of the season.
The Ravens secondary was regarded as the best and deepest position group on the roster entering training camp, but season-ending injuries to slot cornerback Tavon Young (neck) and strong safety Tony Jefferson (knee) as well as Smith’s long-term absence have been difficult blows to a pass defense ranking an underwhelming 26th in the NFL entering Monday.
“It’s exciting anytime you get your guys back,” Harbaugh said. “We want to have guys that can cover. That’s important to us. We’ve got guys that can cover. Obviously, adding Marcus is a big plus for us, and it makes up a little bit for the injury shortfall. But getting Jimmy back, it’s been a long time now. He played what [six] plays in the Miami game and has been out since? And he had a really good training camp, so if we could get him back, that’d be huge for us. I am excited about it. I hope it works out.”
The Ravens hope an improved secondary will aid a pass rush that has managed only 12 sacks in seven games and lost versatile veteran Pernell McPhee to a season-ending triceps injury against the Seahawks. It remains unclear whether DeCosta will be able to make a trade for an impact pass rusher, especially with Baltimore entering Monday with just $1.8 million in 2019 salary cap space.
Of course, there’s been no shortage of trades around the league already with the Ravens themselves acquiring Peters from the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago.
“There’s more talk. There have been years when there’s been no talk where nothing is going on,” Harbaugh said. “More in the National Football League, for whatever reason, this year seems to be the year where it kind of broke open as far as trades.
“I know there’s a lot of talk, but I don’t really know the details of too much of it. We’ll see what happens.”
Patriots-Ravens roster shuffling
Harbaugh admitted losing veteran cornerback and special-teams standout Justin Bethel to New England was “not ideal,” but the Ravens came away with two former Patriots by the end of last week.
The Ravens signed veteran safety Jordan Richards after he was waived to make roster room for Bethel.
“He was the best available special teams guy,” Harbaugh said. “It’s kind of ironic the way it worked out, but they had to let somebody go. They let him go, and it was a good addition for us.”
Baltimore also signed defensive end Ufomba Kamalu off the Patriots practice squad. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound lineman registered three sacks in 13 games with Houston from 2016-17 and appeared in two games with the Patriots last season.
His roster status could largely depend on what happens by Tuesday’s deadline, but the coaching staff is interested in taking a look at Kamalu, who’s shown some versatility in limited opportunities.
“He’s kind of trying to find his way right now, but we thought he was a good fit,” Harbaugh said. “He was a good fit in their system. He’s probably also a good fit in our system, the way he plays with his hands. He’s square. He’s a physical guy. He’s big and he can move, so it’ll be fun to watch him. He’s versatile. He has played outside linebacker, even the rush position that we have that Pernell was playing. He’s also played down as a 5-technique and a defensive end, even a 4-technique for them.”
Young undergoes neck surgery
Harbaugh confirmed Young had surgery to repair a disc problem that surfaced in early August and cost him the entire season.
Young had hoped to avoid surgery with a more conservative rehabilitation approach after he was placed on IR at the end of the preseason. The 2016 fourth-round pick signed a three-year contract extension in February that runs through the 2022 season and is worth $25.8 million with $13 million guaranteed.
“I was told it went well. I think he’s in and out right now with his rehab,” Harbaugh said. “I think he told me he’d see me soon. He has to take care of whatever his program is on that, but he’s on track.”
Rookie cornerback designated to return to practice
Sidelined since August with toe and hamstring injuries, rookie cornerback Iman Marshall was designated to return from IR and began practicing Monday.
The 2019 fourth-round pick from USC now has a 21-day practice window in which the organization will evaluate his progress and decided whether to move him to the active roster. The Ravens aren’t required to activate Marshall, but he now counts as the first of two designations to return they may use. He would remain on IR for the remainder of the year if not activated by the end of the window.
The Ravens’ only other return candidate at this point appears to be safety Brynden Trawick, who was placed on IR with an elbow injury on Oct. 3 and isn’t eligible to return to game action until December.