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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-13 preseason win over Green Bay

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Green Bay in a 26-13 final for their 15th straight preseason win, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Established veterans often coast through the early weeks of the preseason, but Matthew Judon reminded everyone he’s playing for a contract with two back-side pursuit plays resulting in a sack and a third-down stop on a screen pass. The closing speed he showed was very impressive.

2. Tavon Young’s neck injury brings much attention to the nickel corner position, but neither Cyrus Jones nor Anthony Averett impressed in that spot Thursday. I’m confident defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will make it work, but the Ravens will miss Young’s talents in that important role.

3. Jermaine Eluemunor’s strong performance is why coaches have been patient with him despite the well-documented growing pains. He rebounded from last week’s struggles in a major way, even if he still needs to block through the whistle more consistently. Eluemunor also held up pretty well as the backup left tackle.

4. The lack of separation at outside linebacker behind Judon was telling as Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Jaylon Ferguson, and Shane Ray all saw action into the fourth quarter. Ferguson seeing action much earlier than last week speaks to his stock rising while Ray still hasn’t distinguished himself.

5. We knew about the speed with his 40-yard dash time, but Justice Hill continues to show physicality not indicative of a 200-pound running back with so many broken tackles. Hill, Lamar Jackson, and a healthy Marquise Brown all on the field together could be an unsettling sight for defensive coordinators.

6. Coverage is his primary focus, but Marlon Humphrey shedding a block from veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga to make a tackle for a loss is another reason why he’s becoming one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. His dominant play on the outside is even more critical now after the Young injury.

7. I wasn’t positive Chris Moore was a lock to make the roster after his quiet start to camp and Seth Roberts’ early performance, but Moore likely removed any lingering doubt Thursday. Meanwhile, Roberts isn’t helping his case being sidelined with an injury while Jaleel Scott pushes for a job.

8. The Ravens may forgo keeping a fourth inside linebacker, but Otaro Alaka continued to position himself nicely with a game-high six tackles and two for a loss. Alaka shows good closing speed and would be an obvious practice-squad candidate if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.

9. Miles Boykin not catching a pass on three targets isn’t alarming, but his failure to curl toward the line of scrimmage on Jackson’s third-down rollout on the first drive reminds that he still needs polish, which is OK. Despite the summer hype, he wasn’t drafted as a finished product.

10. Justin Bethel missed two tackles on special teams and was playing cornerback late in the second half. I’ve dismissed previous questions about his roster status since the Ravens guaranteed him $1 million early in free agency for his special-teams ability, but Thursday wasn’t a good showing.

11. Many were critical of the illegal blindside block penalty on Willie Snead that negated Jackson’s highlight touchdown run, but the call seemed to be in line with the NFL’s expanded blindside block rule (2:00 mark). We’ll see just how vigilant officials are about calling this in the regular season.

12. If you need a reminder of how little the preseason resembles real games, Jackson has yet to target Mark Andrews in two games with the pair not even being on the field together that much. The rapport they’ve shown in camp suggests that’s some sandbagging from Greg Roman.

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Earl Thomas provides first big practice highlight with Ravens

Posted on 31 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Early practices had mostly looked like a feeling out process for new Ravens safety Earl Thomas.

In addition to returning from a fractured lower left leg suffered last fall, Thomas has acknowledged a learning curve with Wink Martindale’s complex defensive system after nearly a decade of running mostly Cover 3 looks with Seattle. That’s not to say there was any reason for concern this early in training camp, but the six-time Pro Bowl safety had yet to really make a splash play to remind why the Ravens gave him a four-year, $55 million contract that included $32 million guaranteed in March.

That changed Wednesday morning with Thomas breaking in a flash on a Lamar Jackson pass intended for slot receiver Willie Snead over the middle and returning the interception for a long touchdown. Thomas played to the crowd in celebration after his return and flashed the same play-making ability that made him the NFL’s best safety since former Raven Ed Reed, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

“He caught it so in stride [that] I thought he was a receiver at first,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “But I think that’s going to be the story this year — Earl making plays, the whole secondary just flying to the ball. That got me going. I said on Twitter the other day, the energy he brings, I can just already tell. I cannot wait to be on the field with him.”

Already sporting one of the league’s deepest and best secondaries last season, the Ravens identified Thomas as a way to take the group to another level after parting with former Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle. Viewed as a clear upgrade from the 34-year-old Weddle from a physical standpoint, Thomas, 30, is looking more and more comfortable in his new surroundings after a quiet spring.

That was evident when Thomas broke in front of Snead for the highlight pick.

“I think the communication has been smoother and better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Hey, he’s in this defense for the first time. These are new calls for him, but they’re also football. They’re football calls and he understands football, so he’s picking it up really quickly and doing a great job.”

Roster shuffling

Quarterback Joe Callahan made his Ravens practice debut in the wake of the thumb injury sustained by backup Robert Griffin III last weekend.

Callahan, 26, was coached by offensive coordinator Greg Roman at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J. 11 years ago and will share the reps behind Jackson with sixth-round rookie Trace McSorley. The journeyman quarterback has spent time with Green Bay, New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay since going undrafted from Division III Wesley in 2016 and has appeared in just one regular-season game in his NFL career.

“Greg takes full credit for his career by the way,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “Not really. He moved him from safety to quarterback. He said, ‘This kid can really throw. Let’s give him a shot.’ They won the state championship that year in New Jersey, so that was a good one.”

The Ravens also signed linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who spent part of the 2017 season on their practice squad and has appeared in 23 games with the Los Angeles Rams, New England, and Detroit, mostly in a special-teams capacity. Grigsby took the roster spot of wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who was waived just a year after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.

Wednesday’s attendance report

Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown’s practice debut drew the attention, but nickel cornerback Tavon Young and guard Jermaine Eluemunor returned to the field after missing two straight practices with minor muscle issues.

Both Eluemunor and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. took some snaps with the first-team offense after being relegated to the second string for failing the conditioning test at the start of training camp. Eluemunor split reps with rookie Ben Powers at left guard while Brown shared time with veteran James Hurst.

Harbaugh said veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith was excused from practice to take care of “a family-business situation” Wednesday. Offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius also remained absent from practice.

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Jackson looking comfortable, consistent in early days of Ravens camp

Posted on 28 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Whether forcefully directing a teammate where to line up or offering a few words to the second-team offensive line after a rash of pre-snap penalties, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson looks in charge over the early days of training camp.

After leading Baltimore to a 6-1 finish and its first AFC North championship since 2012 last season, the 22-year-old isn’t deferring to anyone in his first full year as a starter. Despite a personality devoid of bravado or focus on individual accolades, this is his team now after last season’s soft opening that resulted in Jackson becoming the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game.

“I wouldn’t say he didn’t know what he was doing, but it was his first couple of games in the NFL. Everything was just coming at him full speed,” wide receiver Willie Snead said. “A year later, he’s comfortable. He’s comfortable with the guys around him. He has command of the huddle, and we believe in him. I think that’s all that matters at this point. We just have to continue to grow with each other.”

Of course, the bulk of the attention will continue to be on the speedy Jackson’s development as a passer, the biggest key to his long-term success as a professional quarterback. Learning offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s new system built around his unique skill set this spring, Jackson’s passing was a mixed bag in the handful of practices open to reporters with periods of success offset by head-scratching inaccuracy on even the most basic throws. That pattern carried over to the first full-squad workout last Thursday with an ugly first 90 minutes followed by a more respectable finish to the day.

But after knocking off that rust — it was his first full-team practice in six weeks after all — Jackson has looked as steady as we’ve seen him throw the ball over the last three days. That’s not to say you’d confuse him with a 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown passer, but growth is evident while reminding ourselves it’s still July, a time of year that can serve as a great fooler around the league.

Practicing against arguably the best secondary in the league, Jackson hasn’t thrown an interception since the first practice when an errant throw on a rollout was picked off by reserve safety Chuck Clark. To suggest he’s picked apart the Ravens defense would be hyperbole, but he’s taking what’s there and giving his receivers chances to make plays, which is exactly what the coaching staff wants to see from its young quarterback.

“It’s consistency. Not just with production, but also with fundamentals, techniques, footwork, release,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the evaluation process. “I want to see a good release. Fewer and fewer of the not good releases — we all know what they look like — and more of the solid releases. We’re really seeing that.”

Asked Friday to describe how he’s evolved the most as a quarterback since his rookie season, Jackson was reluctant to delve into too many specifics, recognizing he has a long way to go. He did, however, acknowledge hearing his many critics this offseason and expressed the desire to “make them eat their words” by winning games and continuing to improve.

“Play-calling, timing,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to get better right now. I don’t want to talk too much.”

His early practices have done the talking as his chemistry with Mark Andrews continues to grow with the second-year tight end making plays down the middle and easily looking like Baltimore’s best pass catcher. With first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown still not practicing, fellow rookie Miles Boykin has shown good speed and reliable hands while making plays — even some long ones — against starting members of the Ravens secondary. Jackson’s passing strength remains the middle of the field, but he’s even showing some improvement outside the numbers with much more work to be done there.

Yes, it’s very early, but the early success is better than the alternative for Jackson and his developing weapons.

Even his spiral — or lack thereof as doubters would scoff — looks better early on. Though he’s unlikely to ever spin the ball as seamlessly as Joe Flacco in his prime, the “ducks” — Jackson’s own description of his “horrible” passing last year — have been fewer and farther between. His passing remains a work in progress, of course, but the key is there being growth while understanding development isn’t always linear.

“We work on [his spiral] a lot, and it has improved dramatically,” quarterbacks coach James Urban said. “Some of it was adjusting to an NFL ball. Some of it was footwork and getting the body all connected, and that’s a continual process. I think that’s a continual process for many young quarterbacks.

“We would like the nice, tight, pretty spiral, but I don’t get overly concerned as long as it’s on time and in rhythm and an accurate throw. That’s way more important than how it looks.”

In a controlled practice setting where no one is allowed to touch the quarterback, you almost forget about Jackson’s special athleticism until he suddenly takes off and even a speed linebacker like Patrick Onwuasor can only shake his head and give the quarterback a fist bump after he effortlessly turns the corner to move the chains. That scrambling ability could easily become a crutch that could hinder his development if Jackson didn’t appear so focused on improving his throwing.

But that’s where we approach the fine line the Ravens and Jackson must navigate between trying to become a better passer — protecting himself in the process — and not shying away too much from what makes him special as a quarterback. Even owner Steve Bisciotti said this spring that Jackson would no longer be running 20 times per game, but Baltimore is sensibly going to do what it takes to win without any self-imposed quota of rushing attempts.

Ultimately, Jackson needs to be himself for the Ravens to thrive.

“My thing for him is I just don’t want him to get caught up in, ‘You have to be a pocket passer. You have to do this,'” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who noted that Jackson has been “dropping dimes” early in camp. “You be who you are. You be special. If you have to take off, take off. Make the defense work. When you make a defense tired like that, then the game opens up, play-action opens up, the run game opens up. Everything opens up.”

This is when we once again remind ourselves that it’s early. Roman describes the first nine days of training camp as “a big period of pouring concrete” with the offense still being installed. There are sure to be setbacks with Jackson only a series of inaccurate “ducks” or a few interceptions away from his critics saying, “I told you so,” but that’s the crucible of the NFL, especially for anyone breaking the norm.

Opinions are widespread about his ability and overall ceiling, but the prevailing sense within the organization is that Jackson will become as good as he’s capable of being. From his work ethic to his on-field maturity, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is described as wanting to be great by countless people inside the building.

That drive and his vivacious personality are what have made teammates — and coaches — gravitate to him so quickly.

“I look back at being 22 years old and could only have hoped to have Lamar Jackson’s poise and balance, sense of proportion,” Harbaugh said. “He just is who he is, and he doesn’t get flustered, doesn’t get fazed. It’s never too big for him. He keeps it about what’s important.

“I’m kind of blown away by that part of it with him.”

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Wide receivers

Posted on 22 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning Thursday and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line
Inside linebackers

We continue at wide receiver, the position that’s been a problem spot over much of the Ravens’ existence. In his first offseason as general manager, Eric DeCosta appeared determined to find second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson more pass-catching targets with which to grow by taking two wide receivers in the first three rounds of the draft, equaling the number selected in the first three rounds over Baltimore’s previous 11 drafts combined. That focus comes after two tight ends were selected in the first three rounds a year ago, leaving Jackson no shortage of young receiving candidates.

How quickly and effectively the youth at this position develops will go a long way in setting the overall ceiling of the passing game as just four of the 13 wide receivers on the preseason roster — two of which weren’t on the team last year — have registered a catch in the NFL. Those four veterans help raise the floor of this group, but none provide much upside, objectively leaving this wide receiver group as one of the weakest in the league on paper entering the preseason. Unlike past years, however, there is more raw talent and athleticism for new wide receivers coach and longtime NFL assistant David Culley to cultivate.

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

The ManPending
Skinny: With the revamped system under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman expected to use the ground game as its foundation, expecting any wide receiver to be “the man” in a conventional sense of catching 80 or more passes or registering 1,000 yards would be unrealistic. However, Willie Snead is the clear candidate if we’re picking from the pool of veteran options while first-round pick Marquise Brown was drafted with visions of fitting this exact description in the coming years.

Old Reliable — Willie Snead
Skinny: John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Snead all saw their production crater when Jackson took over after the bye week last year, but the slot receiver and lone holdover from the trio did have three games with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards with the young quarterback, a sign that some chemistry was developing. Snead was at his best running slant routes in 2018 and works the middle of the field, the area where Jackson looks most comfortable passing at this stage of his development. The 26-year-old is unlikely to post big numbers, but he has the highest floor of any Ravens wide receiver.

Under Fire — Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley
Skinny: Neither Scott nor Lasley was expected to do much as rookies after the Ravens had already signed three veteran free agents, but DeCosta drafting two more receivers early this spring didn’t say much for the 2018 fourth- and fifth-round picks. Scott turned some heads with his work in the spring and has unique size while Lasley had substantial college production and worked out with Jackson in the offseason, but both are firmly on the roster bubble and need to produce in the preseason.

Up-and-Comer — Marquise Brown
Skinny: After registering 2,400 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown became the fourth wide receiver drafted in the first round by the Ravens in their 24-year history. Even at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Brown has the unique speed and athleticism to be a difference-maker, but he must first show he’s fully recovered from undergoing left foot surgery in January. The organization did its homework and was comfortable with his prognosis, but the effects of a Lisfranc injury sometimes linger and Brown was placed on the non-football injury list upon reporting for training camp. You’d have to think he needs to begin practicing soon if he’s realistically going to make a big impact as a rookie.

Sleeper — Chris Moore
Skinny: The raw numbers didn’t suggest a significant step forward from Moore in 2018 as he caught only one more pass and registered 52 fewer receiving yards than the previous year, but he caught 19 of his 25 targets and saw more snaps as an effective blocker in the run-first offense down the stretch. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a strong special-teams contributor and has occasionally flashed some big-play ability, so the time is now for Moore to shine as a receiver if it’s ever going to happen. Brown’s uncertain status to begin training camp only increases the likelihood of Moore getting more playing time.

The Rest — Seth Roberts, Michael Floyd, Miles Boykin, Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts gives the Ravens another veteran option in the slot and has 158 receptions and 13 touchdowns in his career, but he also dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes over his first four seasons, per Pro Football Focus. … Floyd is the only receiver on the roster with a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, but he’s registered only 20 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown in 24 games over the last two seasons. … A 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and above-average speed made Boykin an enticing third-round pick in April’s draft and a strong candidate to be an immediate red-zone target. … Smith caught a total of 13 touchdowns playing in his sophomore and junior seasons with Jackson at Louisville, but he didn’t do much to stand out during spring workouts.

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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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Veteran receiver Michael Floyd signs one-year deal with Ravens

Posted on 17 May 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens added youth at the wide receiver position during the draft, but another veteran has joined a growing competition for roster spots.

Former first-round pick Michael Floyd signed a one-year deal Friday to become just the fourth wide receiver on the offseason roster to have caught an NFL pass, joining Willie Snead, Chris Moore, and Seth Roberts. The 29-year-old tried out for the Ravens last spring before ultimately catching 10 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in 13 games for Washington last season.

The 13th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Floyd caught 242 passes for 3,739 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first five seasons with Arizona, but alcohol problems have contributed heavily to his decline. An extreme DUI arrest in 2016 led to his release from the Cardinals, jail time and house arrest, and a four-game suspension. Floyd was also suspended for a DUI at Notre Dame prior to his senior season and has had other alcohol-related incidents in the last decade.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver will try to offer quarterback Lamar Jackson another big target on the outside, but Floyd will be competing with another Fighting Irish product — third-round rookie Miles Boykin — sporting a similar profile. Floyd’s best season came in 2013 when he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, but he has registered just 24 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns in 26 games since being released by the Cardinals late in the 2016 season. He has since spent time with New England, Minnesota, New Orleans, and Washington.

In other words, Floyd is far from a safe bet to make the roster as the Ravens would prefer younger options such as Boykin and first-round rookie Marquise Brown to prove themselves to be ready to contribute at the next level. Floyd figures to be competing with Roberts and young receivers like Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott for an undetermined number of jobs this summer.

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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 agree to one-year deal with former Oakland receiver Seth Roberts

Posted on 05 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the NFL draft less than three weeks away, the Ravens have added a veteran to a wide receiver group short on experience by agreeing to a one-year deal with Seth Roberts.

The former Oakland Raider was released on Thursday and quickly found a new home on a roster that included only two wide receivers — Willie Snead and Chris Moore — who have even caught an NFL pass. Roberts, 28, made a career-high 45 receptions for 494 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games (six starts) last season. Because he was released, the signing will not count against the compensatory pick formula.

A 2014 undrafted free agent out of West Alabama who spent his first year on Oakland’s practice squad, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Roberts caught 158 passes for 1,826 yards and 13 touchdowns in 62 games (25 starts) for the Raiders. The slot receiver is regarded as a good blocker — something the run-heavy Ravens value more than most organizations — and ranked 88th overall among qualified wide receivers in Pro Football Focus’ grading system last year.

It’s unlikely that Roberts’ addition will drastically change general manager Eric DeCosta’s plans for the draft as the Ravens are clearly in need of more talent at the wide receiver position after the offseason departures of veterans John Brown and Michael Crabtree. Roberts, Snead, Moore, 2018 Day 3 draft picks Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, and former practice-squad member Quincy Adeboyejo are currently the only wide receivers on Baltimore’s offseason roster.

In four career games against the Ravens, Roberts had eight receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns, one of those being the game-winner in the final 30 seconds of the Raiders’ 37-33 win in 2015.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following their pre-draft press conference

Posted on 03 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta began by welcoming everyone to the “Liars Luncheon,” which is what many have called this event for years. It was a fun moment of levity to kick off a question-and-answer session that produces few headlines or revelations.

2. DeCosta estimated the Ravens will have roughly 180 “draftable” players on their board by the time the NFL draft begins in three weeks. He labeled safeties, interior offensive linemen, and pass rushers as the deepest position groups. The latter two could certainly help the current roster.

3. Despite owning just one selection (22nd overall) in the first 84 picks, DeCosta said having two choices each in the third and fourth rounds was “gold” with this year’s mid-round talent. You definitely get the sense the Ravens would prefer moving back in the first to add more mid-round capital.

4. Ozzie Newsome remains very much involved in the draft process with DeCosta noting that he’s probably watching more tape than he has in recent years without the burden of the administrative tasks of a general manager.

5. DeCosta again stated the need to “get some at-bats and swing” at wide receiver, which is a delicate balance for someone who’s perceived a sense of inflation with how the position has been valued in recent years. Given the great need there, you hope the necessary adjustments have been made.

6. Reading much into what’s said about prospects is unwise, but DeCosta compared Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf to Terrell Owens in terms of running after the catch while director of college scouting Joe Hortiz compared his size, physicality, and vertical speed to Demaryius Thomas. High praise.

7. While the likes of Nick Bosa and Josh Allen figure to be long gone by the time Baltimore picks, DeCosta confirmed a desire to add pass-rushing help on the edge and inside. That coupled with the versatility of Wink Martindale’s scheme should cast a wide net to address that need.

8. DeCosta said he could see three or four centers being drafted in the first or second round unlike most years when the position lacks high-end talent. North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury wouldn’t excite the fan base, but the Ravens have long searched for stability at center.

9. Both Devin White and Devin Bush are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens pick, but DeCosta praised the next tier of inside linebackers. You’d have to think one is added to the mix at some point. N.C. State’s Germaine Pratt was formerly a safety and carries upside.

10. Just how important is Marshal Yanda to the running game? Check out who owned Pro Football Focus’ best rushing grade when going off right guard. There’s been some ambiguity and speculation regarding Yanda’s status, but the Ravens still expect him to play in 2019, the final year of his contract.

11. How much does the long-term roster outlook factor into draft planning? Baltimore is currently scheduled to have 17 unrestricted free agents next offseason, a list that includes Yanda, Jimmy Smith, Justin Tucker, Matthew Judon, Willie Snead, Patrick Onwuasor, Michael Pierce, and Ronnie Stanley if his fifth-year option wouldn’t be exercised.

12. DeCosta expressed his love for the gamesmanship of the draft and throwing teams off the Ravens’ scent. “As a kid, I loved to play Risk, I loved to play Monopoly — all those games. To me, this is a game. But it’s not a game we can afford to lose.” Indeed.

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Changing Ravens’ song at wide receiver will be one of DeCosta’s biggest tasks

Posted on 26 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The early reviews have been positive for new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta.

Many doubted the trade value for former starting quarterback Joe Flacco before DeCosta struck an agreement to send the former Super Bowl MVP to Denver for a fourth-round pick in April’s draft. The Ravens are counting on Tavon Young to still grow into the three-year, $25.8 million extension that makes him — at least temporarily — the NFL’s highest-paid slot cornerback, but the organization keeping a talented player entering his age-25 season is a welcome sight.

However, the Monday release of wide receiver Michael Crabtree ends the honeymoon for DeCosta. That’s not to say the veteran’s departure was unexpected or the wrong decision after a disappointing lone season in Baltimore, but it officially signals the latest instance of Phil Connors waking up to “I Got You Babe” in “Groundhog Day.”

The Ravens are about to embark on their latest rebuild of a wide receiver room that currently includes Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, and Quincy Adeboyejo — the latter three without a single NFL target to their names — so let’s get the usual platitudes out of the way.

We know it’s a challenging position to scout, draft, and develop. Top-shelf options on the free-agent market are expensive. Talented receivers could be on the board in any round of the draft. And, yes, there are other positions of need — like the interior offensive line — to address this offseason.

The aforementioned statements are both true and weary excuses. And the arrival of 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson has brought additional comments this offseason, ranging from the Baltimore brass stating a desire to have receivers with strong run-blocking ability to others stating wide receivers aren’t as important for a mobile quarterback in a run-first offense. There may be some truth in those sentiments, especially with a young tight end group trending upward, but that remains a limited outlook for the side of the ball that’s gotten the short end of the stick for years. And you’re forgiven for not being enthused about the idea of blocking-minded receivers when the organization can’t find those sporting the traditional requirements of the position.

Jackson needs high-quality wide receivers to help in his development if the Ravens truly hope to maximize their investment in a first-round quarterback. There’s no telling how Flacco’s early career would have gone without Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin after that, but can you imagine what might have been had the Ravens not fumbled the position so much over the last several years? You hope a lesson has been learned, even with the organization now boasting an exciting young quarterback with a unique skill set.

But that’s where it’s tricky trying to determine whether anything will really change under a new general manager who isn’t new at all. DeCosta surely didn’t agree with every move made by his mentor and former general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but it would be just as naive to assume he was opposed to every misstep ultimately taken at the wide receiver position.

Considering the Ravens have selected just one wide receiver — Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts despite the position being an annual concern, how do you explain away DeCosta’s responsibility knowing the draft has long been his baby? Before last year’s draft, he was asked about that recent track record and whether the organization valued the wide receiver position enough on their board compared to other teams around the league:

“To get a good player at any position, you’ve got to swing. You can get one at-bat in a baseball game and strike out and everyone’s going to say you’re a bad hitter. But if you get up four times and you hit two singles or two doubles, you’re a .500 hitter, so your whole perception changes. You’ve got to swing. We probably haven’t swung quite as much, quite honestly, for a lot of different reasons.

“I think that [with] the receiver position and skill players in general, what I see is a sense of inflation. The value of the skill players has been affected by inflation. Players are getting drafted probably higher than where we actually see their skill levels necessarily being. What I mean by that is we see players that we think are second-round or third-round players getting drafted in the first round. And we see first-round players at some of the skill positions that may be lower-half-of-the-first-round players sometimes getting drafted in the top half of the first round. I think some of that is because of the perception and the pressure to find skill players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any better than other players that they’re drafted in front of, but that the value of these players has changed.

“We have to make a decision. Are we going to react to that as well in order to get players? For instance, you might have a quarterback as being the 20th-best player in the draft, but the chances that you’re going to get him with the 20th pick are basically nonexistent. He’s going to be a top-10 player because he’s a quarterback. The various positions [and] the values of the various positions in terms of winning and losing football games, it seems like the media, the fan base, draft pundits, the NFL teams, everybody has a different opinion. But that makes the value of those skills players greater than probably if you just graded all those players clinically across board. They would be taken higher than what you have them rated, and we have to make a decision of do we want to participate in that inflationary process basically.”

Perhaps the decision to adapt is coming, but DeCosta’s assessment preceded the Ravens passing on first-round wide receivers DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley in favor of trading down to take tight end Hayden Hurst and trading back into the first round to select Jackson. Wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley were grabbed in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, but neither appeared in a single game last season with Scott stashed on injured reserve and Lasley inactive every week.

The jury is still out, but the Ravens can’t continue to point to one failed first-round pick every decade as reason for not taking swings beyond late-round fliers at the position.

In the same way DeCosta deserves his portion of credit for the great success that includes two Super Bowl championships in the last two decades, he shares in the blame for the lack of draft success at the wide receiver position. And while they’ve found some success — and duds — signing past-their-prime receivers at a discount, this new era for the organization signals the need for a long-term answer or two.

There may be no better way for DeCosta to make his mark on the roster as the new man in charge than putting this longstanding criticism to bed and positioning his young quarterback to reach greater heights. No, wide receiver isn’t the only order of business this offseason, but it’s an important one deserving more than just the typical band-aid or two.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or we’ll be back here again next year as Sonny & Cher plays in the background.

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