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

Posted on 13 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ferguson

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As Marquise Brown shines, fellow Ravens rookie waiting his turn

Posted on 12 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marquise Brown still not at “full speed”

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday’s injury report

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

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

Below is the full injury report:

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

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

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earlthomas

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Sunday marks the official beginning of a new era for the Ravens.

Of course, the soft opening of the Lamar Jackson era last year brought the first AFC North championship since 2012 and a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence, but the Ravens have since said farewell to future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, and 2018 team sacks leader Za’Darius Smith in addition to former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. The mass exodus from the NFL’s top-ranked defense leaves Baltimore without a former first-round pick at outside linebacker or in its entire front seven for the first time in franchise history, putting more pressure on a deep and talented secondary to account for concerns about the pass rush.

How quickly a younger defense adjusts and a rebuilt offense grows will determine how successful John Harbaugh’s team will be in 2019. The first test comes against Miami, a rebuilding team with no immediate direction beyond collecting assets for the future.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the sixth time in the last seven seasons with the latter winning four of the previous five meetings. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series 7-6 despite a 3-5 record at what is now called Hard Rock Stadium. That doesn’t include the Ravens’ two postseason victories in Miami during the 2001 and 2008 campaigns.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will start fast with a touchdown pass and a run for a score. I’m really looking forward to watching Jackson in his first full year as a starter and expect the Ravens to be more aggressive passing the ball in the first half, especially on first downs when he completed just under 68 percent of his throws and produced a 100.6 passer rating on 56 attempts last year. That said, there isn’t much experience in that Miami front seven to expect the discipline to contain Jackson’s mobility on zone-read plays and run-pass options, which will lead to some rushing opportunities off the edge.

2. A communication breakdown will lead to a Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown to Albert Wilson. We all know the story with Fitzpatrick, who is capable of getting into a groove in which he torches opponents and then reverts to looking like one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Meanwhile, Wink Martindale has said the biggest challenge in replacing the veterans on his defense has been communication with the pre-snap adjustments and disguise the Ravens use. Even against a below-average offense, a hiccup won’t be surprising considering how little starters played in the preseason.

3. Tight coverage will contribute to four sacks and an Earl Thomas pick in his Ravens debut. I’m admittedly not a believer in the pass rush going into 2019, but that won’t be a problem Sunday with the Dolphins replacing both of their starting offensive tackles and coming off a season in which they surrendered 52 sacks. Strong pass coverage will again help create sacks for the Ravens this season, but Thomas reminded this week he was brought to Baltimore to help create more turnovers. He’ll get one against an overly-aggressive and desperate Fitzpatrick in the second half.

4. Mark Ingram will headline a 215-yard effort from the Baltimore ground game. We’ll see more offensive balance from the Ravens this season, but not when they have a lead in the second half as they will Sunday. The Dolphins ranked 31st in run defense and 26th in yards per carry allowed at 4.8 last year, and there’s little reason to think that will markedly improve under new head coach Brian Flores. Ingram will carry the workload in the first half, but Greg Roman will mix in more carries to Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill after intermission to shorten the game.

5. The Ravens do what they’re supposed to do in a 30-10 win over a bad football team. You gladly take this kind of road game on your schedule, but there’s little upside from an eyeball test perspective with the Dolphins front office tanking in 2019. The Ravens simply need to play a clean football game in which they take care of the ball, minimize penalties, and take what Miami gives them. It’s in Martindale’s nature to be aggressive on defense, but Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback who will eventually give you the game the longer you remain disciplined. We know anything can happen in the NFL and Miami still has some talented football players on both sides of the ball, but there’s little excuse for Harbaugh’s team to leave South Florida without a season-opening win.

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LJ

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Let the great Lamar Jackson experiment begin in Miami

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

It has been said that the pioneers take the arrows and settlers take the land.

Make no mistake about it, Eric DeCosta and the Baltimore Ravens franchise has staked its claim to the new territory and against all odds – and perhaps the few analytics a football fan would think they understand about quarterbacks running into linebackers on purpose – plan to run to the Super Bowl in Miami, as opposed to flying.

And where it starts this Sunday amidst aquamarine fish chaos in South Florida is exactly where head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens want this to end in early February – on the turf at the Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIII.

The NFL has had a few variations of this RPO offense in spurts over the years with running quarterbacks but this would be unprecedented in the modern era – keeping a running quarterback healthy long enough in a ferociously violent game to establish a program and win a championship 20 weeks later.

The boldness of this rather quick transition from a wannabe aerial team under Joe Flacco, with a minor in “balance” and “long field goals” that never made the grade after 2013, to a ground and pound and dazzle (on occasion) does not come without a lingering trail of limited success. Last season, when Lamar Jackson took over a seemingly forever scuffling offense and made magic happen with his feet for two months as the air chilled, it made the exit of Flacco and his exorbitant contract an easy decision for this transition period of Ravens football.

And while most of the football world thought John Harbaugh was a dead-coach-walking last November, he has re-signed on for the new youth movement and “offensive revolution” while also bringing the stability you’d want for a team with a lot to prove on both sides of the ball.

The January reality thud of the Chargers perfecting a defensive game plan (on the road, no less) to impair the Ravens and neophyte Jackson is now “to be continued” but the organization and its football cognoscenti have now built the entire operation around No. 8. The plan is to run the NFL and its defensive coordinators ragged week to week with preparing to play left-handed against a supercharged, speed offense with a quarterback who plays with the fearlessness of a kid who won the Heisman Trophy when he was 19 years old.

The Dolphins have already endured two storms this week – Hurricane Dorian went up the coast but the turmoil of the selloff of Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and the general awfulness of everything about the team of Stephen Ross is expected to settle onto the South Florida turf at 1 p.m. on Sunday. This mess of a franchise in absolute disarray should provide an interesting backdrop for the homecoming of Lamar Jackson, who played his high school ball 45 minutes up the road and might have more friends in the stands than the Dolphins will have fans. Meanwhile, first round draft pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown could walk this Sunday to the former Joe Robbie Stadium from his bright lights, beachy hometown just across I-95 and University.

While so much emphasis and attention will be rightly focused on the offensive concepts that Greg Roman will employ around Jackson and a plethora of speedy weapons, it’ll be a Ravens defense that many will similarly need a scorecard to identify early this Sunday.

Earl Thomas is the new Hall of Fame bully in town. Marlon Humphrey has changed his uniform number and will be moving into a new role as a team leader in a secondary that is stacked yet still depleted with the loss of Tavon Young early in training cap.

Who will rush the passer? Who will set the edge? Who picks up the slack for losing C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith in their prime and the wisdom of Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs pre-snap? Will Matt Judon step into a budding role as a franchise-type that the Ravens will want to pay at the end of this walk season? Can Jimmy Smith still be a difference maker in the secondary?

The preseason showed nothing – on purpose, according to Harbaugh and virtually everyone in the locker room this week in Owings Mills.

These first two weeks of real football – visiting hapless Miami and having the scuffling Arizona Cardinals as a homecoming feast next week – might not allow the Ravens to prove much beyond what should be easy wins if this team is going to be a contender this winter. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been very confident in his unit but the questions will certainly linger until later in the month when the Ravens see Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger as the leaves begin to brown.

But will the Cleveland football franchise “brown” as well as the AFC North darling and favorite?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers overcome the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to prosper with addition by subtraction?

The mystery is what makes this league so much fun and why I’ll be on a plane to South Beach this weekend.

Eric DeCosta is building a bold, different kind of program in Baltimore in his first effort after two decades of “In Ozzie We Trust.”

It has been called “an experiment” – trying a college offense in a pro game of adjustments and speed.

I like Lamar Jackson.

I am on the record: I have never thought it was a good idea to have a quarterback who

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judon

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens counting down to Sunday’s kickoff of the 2019 regular season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson heard the criticism all offseason and put in the work to improve his passing by all accounts. How big a step forward he takes remains to be seen, but he was in command of the offense and threw more consistently all summer. I can’t wait to watch him.

2. The 22-year-old will be surrounded by plenty of youth as 14 of Baltimore’s 24 offensive players (not including hybrid defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard) are in their first or second season. That could make for an uncomfortable downside, but the ceiling is exciting, especially at the skill positions.

3. The Wink Martindale effect eases some concern with the pass rush, but you still need individuals to win 1-on-1 matchups. Beyond Matthew Judon, I’m not confident the defensive front has the rushers to consistently do this, which is going to put more pressure on their secondary than the opposing quarterback.

4. Willie Henry went from looking like he could start and be a major part of the interior pass rush to being waived and going unclaimed by the other 31 teams. Dropping 20 pounds from his listed 2017 playing weight (308 pounds) clearly didn’t pay off for a once-promising player.

5. Chris Wormley being the only true 5-technique defensive end on the roster says much about the evolution of NFL defenses. You’ll still hear “front seven” in conversation, but the league used base personnel only 25 percent of the time last year, creating less need to carry so many interior linemen.

6. It was a tough summer for Baltimore’s heralded 2016 fourth round. Henry and Alex Lewis are gone, Tavon Young and Kenneth Dixon are on injured reserve, and only Chris Moore remains on the active roster. The group was very promising, but even the above-average Young has missed two whole seasons.

7. All eyes are on left guard, but did anyone else find it strange that Orlando Brown Jr. played 18 snaps in the preseason finale while the likes of Chris Moore, James Hurst, and even rookies Miles Boykin and Justice Hill were held out? Brown didn’t play in last summer’s finale.

8. I’m surprised how many questioned whether three-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Bethel would make the roster despite the Ravens — who were already deep at cornerback — giving him $1 million guaranteed in the opening week of free agency. This is the 12th year of the John Harbaugh era. Special teams matter.

9. Jaleel Scott was in danger of not making the team as a fourth-round rookie last year if not for a hamstring injury that landed him on IR. A team official noted this spring how much he’d improved, and Scott carried that over with a strong preseason. Good for him.

10. Members of the practice squad serve varying functions, but De’Lance Turner and Maurice Canady are solid insurance policies should a need arise at running back or cornerback. Re-signing them was a plus for organizational depth.

11. Perhaps a deal is being completed as we speak, but I was a little surprised Eric DeCosta didn’t make a trade for a veteran offensive lineman or a pass rusher with so much activity throughout the league over the weekend. Of course, he had already pulled off three August trades.

12. The Kaare Vedvik saga reinforces how desperate contenders can be for a kicker and how blessed the Ravens have been — one nightmare aside. Baltimore got a fifth-rounder, the New York Jets wound up with a kicker they’d previously attempted to acquire for nothing, and Minnesota has egg on its face.

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mcsorley

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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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hurst

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Ravens-Eagles preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 August 2019 by Luke Jones

Long viewed as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the third preseason game between the Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles isn’t expected to resemble that.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed most starters will play around 20 snaps for the third straight week, but that plan for quarterback Lamar Jackson may need to be revisted with three members of the projected starting offensive line dealing with health concerns. Meanwhile, it remains unclear if Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz will play Thursday after being held out of his team’s first two preseason contests by head coach Doug Pederson.

Starters seeing less and less playing time has brought the preseason schedule under greater scrutiny with many calling for a reduction in exhibition games. The Ravens have conducted two sets of joint workouts in each of the last two summers, a practice becoming more popular among NFL teams since it provides competition in a more controlled environment to curtail injuries.

“I just felt like we got a lot of work done,” said Harbaugh about the practices in Philadelphia and the possibility of eliminating some preseason contests. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all. I’m on record [saying] I don’t know how many of these preseason games we really need to play, but I also understand there’s a lot to the bargaining process. We’ll see what happens.”

Of course, this game remains very meaningful for players fighting for spots on the 53-man roster with final cuts only 10 days away. The preseason finale is often touted as the forum for bubble players to win jobs, but the reality is most roster decisions have already been made by that point and only a spot or two at most remains up for grabs.

Thursday represents the last best chance for many of these roster hopefuls.

“It’s going to be a measuring stick definitely,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “It’s one of those things that we talk about. This third preseason game, it’s getting down to crunch time now where guys are going to make the 53 or they’re not.

“The biggest message was, ‘If you think you’re on the bubble, you are.‘”

Thursday marks the 13th time the Ravens and Philadelphia will meet in the preseason with Baltimore holding a 7-5 edge. The all-time regular-season series is tied at 2-2-1.

The Ravens own a 35-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won a remarkable 15 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.

Most of the 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 any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), CB Tavon Young (neck), QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Seth Roberts, CB Iman Marshall (thigh), OT Greg Senat, OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: LB Chris Board (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Otaro Alaka, OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (foot), G Jermaine Eluemunor, RB Kenneth Dixon, RB Gus Edwards, LB Shane Ray, LB Nicholas Grigsby, DT Gerald Willis

Five players to watch Thursday night

TE Hayden Hurst

The 2018 first-round pick is healthy and has had his share of good days during training camp, but he’s recorded only one catch for minus-1 yard over the first two preseason games. Building confidence and consistency are keys for Hurst entering his second season, so you’d like to see him finish the preseason on a high note. With first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown still not at full strength, Jackson and the passing game may need to lean even more heavily on the tight ends early in the season, making it important for Hurst to at least emerge as a productive complementary option to Mark Andrews.

LB Shane Ray

The Ravens have waited all summer for Ray to emerge, but it hasn’t happened to this point as he didn’t really stand out even playing against second- and third-team offensive linemen in the first two preseason games, which isn’t an encouraging sign for someone in his fifth season. The former first-round pick of the Denver Broncos missed practice time earlier this week, but he did return for Tuesday’s session, leading you to believe he should be able to play Thursday. The gap is hardly insurmountable, but Ray appears to be sixth in the pecking order at outside linebacker, which may not add up to a roster spot.

OL Bradley Bozeman

Despite not being strongly considered for the starting left guard job in camp, Bozeman has seemingly solidified his roster standing with solid play as the backup center in the preseason as well as an ability to fill in at either guard spot. The health status of the starting offensive line could press Bozeman into starting duty against the Eagles, which could provide him the chance to make a late pitch to be the left guard. The 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama never did push Matt Skura for the starting center position as many anticipated this offseason, but he still looks the part of a versatile reserve.

CB Maurice Canady

The oft-injured defensive back entering the final year of his rookie deal looked to be the odd man out in a very deep group of cornerbacks, but the neck injury to Tavon Young has shortened a path to a roster spot for Canady, who has played well on the outside this summer. He served as Baltimore’s nickel back in the second half of the 2017 season, so it will be interesting to see if he receives more opportunities to compete in the slot against the likes of Cyrus Jones, Brandon Carr, and Anthony Averett. Canady’s injury history and contract status still make him vulnerable on cut-down day, but his chances have improved.

RB De’Lance Turner

Despite rushing for 58 yards on 11 carries in the first two preseason games, Turner looks to be no higher than fifth on the running back depth chart, which would suggest he’s really not even on the bubble. However, the burst he’s shown as a rusher coupled with his appearance on starting special-teams units would lead you to believe he’s vying for a job, especially since Kenneth Dixon is in the final year of his contract, has a long injury history, and doesn’t play special teams. No one suggests Turner is better than Dixon, but those variables work in the former’s favor if Baltimore wants to keep a fourth back behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill.

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Ravens seeing “different gear” from Marquise Brown in recent practices

Posted on 18 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the biggest story lines for the Ravens’ trip to Philadelphia to practice against the Eagles ahead of the third preseason game will be the status of wide receiver Marquise Brown.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the 2019 first-round pick practiced fully Saturday and would “hopefully … be good” to practice fully against the Eagles this week, which could pave the way for his preseason debut Thursday in what’s expected to be the final exhibition action for quarterback Lamar Jackson and most other starters. The health of Brown’s surgically-repaired left foot remains paramount, of course, but the speedy rookie building an on-field rapport with his starting quarterback is becoming a greater priority with the season opener in Miami just three weeks away.

Brown began taking part in full-team drills Aug. 10 after being brought along very slowly over the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp.

“We’re giving him more every day. I think the plan was the right plan,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “This past week, we really saw a different gear from him, and that’s exciting. Now, we have to build some chemistry with him and Lamar.

“His style is a little different. He can kick that gear in. You better put some mustard on that ball.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young continues to weigh his options for a disc issue in his neck that could keep him out for the entire season, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has no shortage of potential replacements at the nickel position, even if they don’t provide the same upside or versatility. Cyrus Jones has started at the position in each of the first two preseason games to mixed reviews, but it appears unlikely he’ll hold the job exclusively at this point.

Every game situation could bring a different defensive player to the slot, which is the benefit of having depth in the secondary.

“Cyrus is the No. 1 nickel right now, but we’ll just wait and see what happens when we game-plan it,” Martindale said. “Brandon Carr has been in there. ‘Double A’ (Anthony Averett) has been in there. We can put different guys in there, and it’s matchup — what we think is the best. We put Chuck [Clark] and DeShon [Elliott] in there. It’s just a matchup thing.”

In addition to Young, 13 other players were absent from Sunday’s practice with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, wide receiver Miles Boykin, and outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray being new absences. Others continuing to be sidelined included running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon (knee), wide receiver Seth Roberts, offensive lineman Marshal Yanda (foot), Randin Crecelilus, and Greg Senat, cornerback Iman Marshall (thigh), and inside linebackers Chris Board (concussion) and Nicholas Grigsby.

Inside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young returned to practice after sitting out Saturday’s session.

The Ravens traveled to Philadelphia Sunday evening ahead of joint practices Monday and Tuesday. The Eagles’ 4-3 base defense and widely-aligned edge rushers should provide a valuable test for Jackson and a young offense this week.

“They get out there in those wide nines, and they’re coming off the edge. They bring it. They’re a real penetrating, run-to-the-ball defense,” Roman said. “It’s just a different style, and to be able to practice against those different nuances that you’re going to see throughout the season [is beneficial].

“It’s a great advantage for the guys to [have played against] more of a 3-4 structure [against Green Bay] last week, more of an eight-man front, 4-3 [against Jacksonville] the week before, and now they get to play against that 4-3 stack with those wide nines.”

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Ravens hoping to begin gaining clarity with position battles next week

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to see business pick up next week as it pertains to their starting position battles.

Not only will they play their first preseason game against Jacksonville next Thursday, but the Jaguars arrive in Owings Mills Monday for the first of two joint practices that should ratchet up the competition level. To this point, the Ravens haven’t gained much clarity at outside linebacker or left guard, two of their biggest question marks entering the 2019 season.

Veteran Pernell McPhee has lined up as the rush linebacker opposite strong-side outside linebacker Matthew Judon for the first-team base defense, but McPhee has always been more effective as a rotational player ideally moving inside to rush in passing situations. You hope the 30-year-old receiving the early honors is more a sign of respect and a motivational tactic for younger options, but 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, free-agent newcomer Shane Ray, and rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson haven’t consistently stood out beyond the flash play here or there. There’s also the important question of how effectively these unproven options will set the edge against the run, which remained an underrated part of former Raven Terrell Suggs’ game even in his later years.

“When we get into the games, the actual preseason games, you’ll have better questions and I’ll have better answers for you on the pass rushers,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “But I love the way we’re competing. I love how fast we are.”

The competition at left guard has been even more disconcerting with injuries and conditioning concerns muddying the waters. Fourth-year lineman Alex Lewis has yet to practice as he works his way back to full strength from offseason shoulder surgery while third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor — who surprisingly lined up as the starter throughout spring workouts — has missed at least part of four camp practices due to minor injury or conditioning concerns.

Rookie Ben Powers received most of first-team reps over the first week , but that appeared to be more a result of attrition than the talented fourth-round pick from Oklahoma being overly advanced in his development. In a perfect world, Powers would win the job since he has the most upside — and team control — of the aforementioned options, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer a glowing endorsement when asked about the rookie working so much with the first team in the early days of camp.

“We don’t have a starter there. Who would you want me to put in there? He’s the guy right now,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “Jermaine has to get in shape still more, and those guys are competing along with James Hurst. James Hurst knows how to play the position, so we’re giving those younger guys the reps. We’ll see what happens.”

The Ravens gave Eluemunor another opportunity with the first team on Friday, but the 2017 fifth-round pick responded with two early false starts that resulted in him being forced to run laps as pre-snap penalties continue to plague the offense early in camp. Lewis remains the wild card if he returns to practice in the coming days as Harbaugh previously indicated an early August return for the oft-injured 2016 fourth-round pick who’s started 18 games in his career.

The position that’s gained the most clarity is inside linebacker where former undrafted free agent Chris Board has worked as the clear-cut starter next to Patrick Onwuasor. Martindale confirmed Board is ahead of 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young for the starting weak-side spot, but defensive back Anthony Levine also factors into that spot when the Ravens move into their dime package. Board appeared to receive more first-team reps in the position’s timeshare during spring workouts, but he’s taken virtually all base and nickel reps with Young relegated to the second team since the start of camp.

“He had a great offseason, and we challenged him on the things he needed to improve on and he went to work,” said linebackers coach Mike Macdonald about Board, who played more outside linebacker at North Dakota State. “He bulked up with some muscle and kept all his speed. He’s hammered out the playbook. He has a really good command of what we’re asking him to do, communicates well, and then when you turn the tape on, his speed is just hard to ignore.”

The next test for Board or any other unproven player vying for a starting position will come against the Jaguars as the Ravens will compete against someone other than themselves for the first time in 2019. The transition from spring workouts in shorts to training camp practices in full pads is always the first separator in competitions, but the coming week provides another checkpoint as coaches watch closely to see how young players handle live-game settings in August.

There’s still more than a month to go until the season opener in Miami, but the Ravens would love to begin gaining more clarity at these positions.

“You’d like for it to happen naturally and to be clear. That’s what you’d like,” said Harbaugh specifically about the offensive line. “You don’t want it to be clear because nobody is taking the reins. You want somebody to take the reins. Now, if more guys take the reins and make it tough on us, that would be even better. But we’re not there yet.”

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce cleared from non-football injury list

Posted on 21 July 2019 by Luke Jones

Two days after being placed on the non-football injury list, Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce has apparently been cleared to begin practicing.

The fourth-year defensive lineman was listed on Sunday’s league transaction sheet as having passed his physical, meaning he has been removed from the NFI list and is eligible to practice this week. The Ravens haven’t commented on Pierce’s status since last month’s mandatory minicamp when head coach John Harbaugh pulled him from the field due to weight and conditioning concerns. It’s unclear exactly where Pierce is physically compared to his 2018 listed playing weight of 340 pounds or whether he has additional work to do from a conditioning standpoint, but the removal of his NFI designation is obviously good news for both him and the Baltimore defense.

Scheduled to make $3.095 million this season after receiving a second-round tender as a restricted free agent, Pierce is entering a contract year and has become one of the NFL’s best run-stopping nose tackles over his first three seasons. He finished with 32 tackles, a fumble recovery, four tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, and a pass defensed in 14 regular-season games last year and graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the league.

“Don’t forget what a great football player he is, and he’ll get back there [physically],” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the day after Pierce was pulled from minicamp in mid-June. “I can’t tell you when, but he’ll get back there. He’ll get back to that.”

Pierce wasn’t the only Raven to be cleared Sunday as rookie third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and rookie fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack were also removed from the NFI list. Both players presumably failed the conditioning test upon reporting to Owings Mills last week, but each can now begin practicing.

With Pierce, Ferguson, and Mack all passing their physicals, rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown is the only Baltimore player currently on the NFI list while guards Alex Lewis (shoulder surgery) and Patrick Mekari remain on the physically unable to perform list. Those three are eligible to begin practicing at any point upon being cleared by the team.

Remaining veteran players will report to the team facility Wednesday with the first full-squad workout of training camp taking place Thursday morning.

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