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humphrey

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Cornerbacks

Posted on 09 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in a little over two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

We’ll start at cornerback, which is the deepest and most talented position group on the entire roster. Over the last five years, the Ravens have handed out a few sizable contracts at this position and used meaningful draft capital by selecting a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five consecutive drafts. In other words, we’ve seen quite a shift from the days of Baltimore needing to sign street free agents such as Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright to immediately fill prominent roles because of poor depth.

The abundance of talent includes multiple options to play the slot or outside and allows defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to rotate his cornerbacks much like you typically see with defensive linemen and pass rushers. Despite dealing with no long-term injuries at the position last season, the Ravens had four starting-caliber corners play over 600 snaps, but none took more than 876. It’s the kind of rotation that help keeps everyone fresh and opposing offenses guessing.

That’s a luxury few teams enjoy in today’s pass-crazy NFL, but secondary depth has become more important than ever with the Ravens defense using five or more defensive backs 83 percent of the time last season. Simply put, the nickel has really become their base defense rather than the traditional front seven.

Below is a look at several cornerbacks who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marlon Humphrey
Skinny: Having just turned 23, the former first-round pick was voted team MVP by the local media last year and appears on the cusp of Pro Bowl stardom entering his third season, evident by Pro Football Focus naming him one of the NFL’s top 25 players under age 25 this offseason. He ranked third in the NFL in forced incompletion percentage and graded seventh among qualified cornerbacks in coverage, according to PFF. If he stays healthy, Humphrey could be one of the NFL’s best for years to come.

Old Reliable — Brandon Carr
Skinny: If his remarkable streak of never missing a game — while starting each one — in his first 11 seasons weren’t enough, the 33-year-old registered the eighth-lowest passer rating allowed in the NFL and was one of only three cornerbacks playing at least 500 coverage snaps not to surrender a touchdown in 2018, per PFF. Carr also filled in capably as a slot corner at times despite rarely playing there over the course of his career. The veteran isn’t a star, but he oozes dependability, an underrated trait in the NFL.

Under Fire — Jimmy Smith
Skinny: Many wondered if Smith would be back as he sports the second-highest salary cap number and 18th-highest cash payout among NFL cornerbacks in 2019, but Baltimore continues to bet on the upside of the 2011 first-round pick who’s played more than 12 games in the regular season only twice in his career due to injuries or suspensions. We’ve seen Smith, who turns 31 later this month, play at a superb level when right physically, but he needs a healthy and productive campaign with free agency looming.

Up-and-Comer — Anthony Averett
Skinny: The 2019 fourth-round pick from Alabama saw only 71 defensive snaps as a rookie, but most of that action came in the Week 14 loss at Kansas City, which was an impressive showing for the 24-year-old against an explosive offense. With Smith in the final year of his contract and Carr entering his 12th season, Averett is a candidate to step into a starting role as early as next season, but he’ll be asked to be a versatile game-day reserve capable of playing outside and inside in the meantime.

Sleeper — Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Formerly of the Memphis Express in the defunct Alliance of American Football, Bonds signed only after trying out during rookie camp and is a long shot to crack the 53-man roster in this deep group of cornerbacks. However, the 5-foot-8, 182-pound slot corner from Tennessee State was solid in the spring and intercepted Lamar Jackson twice in the same red-zone period during last month’s minicamp, which garnered plenty of attention. He’ll be fighting for a job in Baltimore or elsewhere this summer.

The Rest — Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Iman Marshall, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: Young’s three-year, $25.8 million contract extension reflects how highly the Ravens think of the slot corner, but the deal was panned elsewhere as a market setter for a relatively unproven player and others noted most of his success dating back to college has come as an outside corner. Agree or not, Baltimore sees a higher ceiling for the 25-year-old that will need to be reached. … The 29-year-old Bethel will really have to shine on special teams to justify the Ravens guaranteeing him $1 million despite the deep depth that was already in place at the position. … Jones, a Gilman School product, provided a spark as a punt returner down the stretch last season, but he may need to expand his return duties to kickoffs as well to secure his roster spot for 2019. … Canady has been a productive slot option in the past, but his injury history and expiring rookie contract are working against his roster chances.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens conclude spring workouts with few injury concerns

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The best news for the Ravens at the end of spring workouts was the avoidance of any serious injuries with the start of the 2019 campaign still almost three months away.

Few developments are more deflating than losing a key player or two for the season as Baltimore did two springs ago when cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta suffered serious injuries on back-to-back days.

All but five players on the offseason roster participated in all three days of mandatory minicamp this week, but one of the non-participants was 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has not yet been cleared to practice despite taking a couple reps in a position drill Wednesday that created some out-of-market media buzz. General manager Eric DeCosta said during the NFL draft that the organization “conservatively” projected Brown to be ready to practice by training camp after undergoing surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in January.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the speedy 22-year-old is not yet running at full speed on flat ground despite the agility work he began doing earlier this month, but he remains “hopeful” Brown will be ready to go when players report back to Owings Mills in late July. The Ravens drafted the former Oklahoma star to make an immediate play-making impact in an offense needing more speed.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari (back) missed all of this week’s three-day minicamp.

Lewis’ status remains unclear as he recovers from January shoulder surgery and wasn’t in the building for the voluntary offseason training program. It was a questionable decision for someone who has missed 28 games in his first three seasons and is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

The 2016 fourth-round pick has started 18 of his 20 career games and showed much promise in the past, but Harbaugh made it clear the competition for the starting left guard job is wide open this summer.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Pierce hasn’t been made available to reporters since being pulled off the field by Harbaugh Tuesday because of concerns about his weight and conditioning, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and safety Tony Jefferson were among those offering their support to the fourth-year defensive tackle in the midst of much disappointment this week.

“What I said to him and I said it in front of the whole defense, ‘Life is about choices. Just don’t make that choice make your life,’” Martindale said Wednesday. “He’s a dominant player, and he has a challenge to get from here until training camp to hit a certain stage. That’s [up] to the trainers and Eric and ‘Harbs’ on where they want him to be, and I know he’ll be there. I know he will.”

Safety Earl Thomas wasn’t making many splash plays in his first practices since fracturing his lower left leg for the second time in three years last September, but he showed his new team he’s recovered and ready to resume a brilliant career that’s featured six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship as part of Seattle’s dominant “Legion of Boom” defense. His challenge now is getting used to the complexity of Martindale’s system that puts responsibility on the players to make and communicate pre-snap adjustments.

The 30-year-old said he’s “in the right spot” physically and offered praise to Baltimore’s training staff for helping him get back into football shape.

“I have my days. But, for the most part, like today, you never want to get off the field when you’re feeling good,” said Thomas, who’s missed 19 regular-seasons games over the last three years. “I didn’t want to come out. Usually, I’ll take three reps a period, four reps, but I didn’t want to come out today. I felt really good. I’m just taking it day by day.”

The sight of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda taking part in mandatory minicamp has been a rarity in recent years because of a variety of injuries and offseason surgeries, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection said he never doubted he’d return for 2019 upon finishing last season healthy. Yanda, 34, signed a one-year contract extension through 2020 earlier this offseason, but he isn’t changing his mindset from last year when he acknowledged he was now viewing his career on a season-by-season basis.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling really good about playing this fall, and I don’t look any further down the road,” Yanda said. “I’m worried about playing this fall and playing good football. The best thing is that I didn’t have to recover from an offseason surgery, so I didn’t have to rehab this offseason. I could lift and I could do some shoulder maintenance, but I didn’t have to get any range of motion back.”

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Baltimore Ravens Tim Williams, (56), and Brandon Williams, (98), warm up at the team's  NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of mandatory minicamp

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp in Owings Mills this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marquise Brown not being “certain” to be ready for the start of training camp doesn’t mean this is turning into another Breshad Perriman situation, but it’s fair to be a little uneasy he’s not yet running full-speed. Ask Jimmy Smith or Hayden Hurst how long a foot injury can linger.

2. Lamar Jackson finished offseason workouts with multiple touchdown passes in a short red-zone period Thursday, an area of the field in which he struggled this spring. He fared better overall in 7-on-7 drills than full-team work, but he raised his level of consistency as the spring progressed.

3. Asked about his plans between now and training camp, Jackson said he’s organizing throwing sessions with teammates and will work with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris in Florida. He also “might” work with quarterback guru Tom House, but that sounded less certain. You definitely like the work ethic.

4. Earl Thomas admitted he has his challenging days coming back from his second lower left leg fracture in three years, but he feels like he’s “in the right spot” physically. We’ll get a better feel for the 30-year-old in the summer, but he appears to be gelling nicely with the rest of the secondary.

5. It was interesting how open Thomas was in describing the Baltimore defense as “very complex” compared to the straight Cover 3 looks he ran in Seattle. He admits the complexity and on-field communication have been adjustments, but that’s not surprising.

6. Trying to predict passing and receiving numbers in an offense anchored by the run is difficult, but Mark Andrews is my early pick to lead the Ravens in most receiving categories. He was the best pass-catching target on the field and is playing with an edge, something this offense needs.

7. Unlike Michael Pierce, Matthew Judon reported to minicamp in good shape and practiced like he hadn’t skipped organized team activities. Asked by a reporter if his agent has had contract talks with the Ravens, Judon replied, “They said they were going to pay me what they pay you.” Alrighty then.

8. John Harbaugh described left guard as “a competitive spot” and identified James Hurst as the slight favorite at this early stage despite Jermaine Eluemunor taking the first-team reps there this spring. The coach also mentioned Eluemunor needing to get in better shape. In other words, that spot is wide open.

9. It was interesting that Alex Lewis was not mentioned by name in that mix after Harbaugh revealed the oft-injured guard was in charge of his own rehabilitation from offseason shoulder surgery and the team hadn’t seen him until this week. That’s an interesting choice ahead of a contract year.

10. Harbaugh and Wink Martindale confirmed Kenny Young and Chris Board are competing for a starting inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Board is in the lead based on practice rep distribution.

11. The retiring Jerry Rosburg worked his final practice Thursday and was honored in a team-wide celebration the previous day. The Ravens will miss his superb special-teams coaching, but his thoughtful remarks and underrated sense of humor will be missed by reporters. Best wishes to him.

12. I appreciated Martindale’s candid comments about the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle and how the defense is impacted. I especially enjoyed the subtle shade thrown on the “next man up” phrase that’s become one of the worst cliches in sports in recent years.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens still waiting on first-round pick to make practice debut

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense was always going to win the battle this spring.

Not only has the Baltimore offense been completely revamped under coordinator Greg Roman, but a run-first system isn’t going to operate with full effect in non-contact practices. As you’d expect, a passing attack with a quarterback entering his first full year as a starter and veteran wide receivers with limited ceilings hasn’t produced many big plays against arguably the best and deepest secondary in the NFL.

But the Ravens — and their fans — must maintain the proper perspective knowing some intriguing upside is on the way in addition to quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense simply increasing their comfort level in the new system. General manager Eric DeCosta selected two wide receivers with his first three picks of April’s draft to address the very concern observers have witnessed this spring.

Third-round rookie Miles Boykin missed a large portion of organized team activities with a hamstring injury and is still taking limited reps during this week’s minicamp, but first-round pick Marquise Brown has yet to make his practice debut for the Ravens. The speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver has increased his activity level this week by doing agility work on a side field, catching passes from the Jugs machine, and even taking a couple reps in an individual position drill Wednesday, but the real show won’t begin until the start of training camp in late July. Brown was selected with the 25th overall pick to make an immediate play-making impact, but the Ravens knew they’d have to be patient after the Oklahoma standout underwent Lisfranc surgery on his foot in January.

“He gets a little extra meeting time because he doesn’t get to do the stuff on the field that some of the guys get to do,” wide receivers coach David Culley said. “He spends a little bit of extra time going over those kinds of things. For the most part, he gets extra film work in, just watching everything in practice. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to see himself to be able to correct things.”

Taking nothing away from complementary veteran wide receivers such as Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and Chris Moore who will receive their share of opportunities, the Ravens are counting on Brown to be a difference maker, something they’ve rarely had at the wide receiver position over their history. The combination of speed and athleticism with which Brown consistently burned Big 12 defenses is exactly what Jackson needs to help fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback.

The wait is almost over to see Brown in action, but he’ll have plenty of catching up to do after missing valuable spring reps.

“When I think about what I saw when we drafted him from Oklahoma, I get really excited about it,” Culley said. “Hopefully, he can do some of those same things that he did. He was a big-play guy for them, and one of the reasons why we got him where we got him was because of his big-play ability. We’re looking forward to him bringing that to us.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and return specialist Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari did not participate in Wednesday’s minicamp practice. Safety Tony Jefferson increased his activity level in only his second practice since having ankle surgery in January.

Elliott shines again

Second-year safety DeShon Elliott continues to be a surprising standout performer this spring as he snatched another interception during Thursday’s practice, victimizing backup quarterback Robert Griffin III during a 7-on-7 period.

The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas showed physicality in his first training camp before being lost for the season with a broken forearm last August, but his range in pass coverage has turned plenty of heads with a diving interception last week being the highlight play of the spring. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott has the size to be used in different capacities even if he’s stuck behind six-time Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas and established veteran Tony Jefferson on the depth chart.

“He’s just picked up where he left off right before he got hurt, and it’s just going to be another fun piece,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We play a bunch of different personnel and everything else. I know we have two really good safeties right now, but we’ll find spots for the good football players. Obviously, specials teams play a big part in that.”

Elliott’s development could impact snaps for reserve safeties Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark, who both saw plenty of action in sub packages last season.

Rough day for quarterbacks

Even with some inconsistency and the overall shortage of big plays in the passing game, Jackson had done a commendable job avoiding turnovers this spring with only one interception over the first four practices open to media, but that changed Wednesday.

The 22-year-old quarterback was picked off by reserve defensive back Bennett Jackson in a 7-on-7 period and was later intercepted twice by rookie cornerback Terrell Bonds in the red zone, an area of the field in which the offense has struggled. Griffin also threw two interceptions during the morning practice.

Jackson also threw a touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews as the two continue to build on the encouraging chemistry they showed down the stretch last season.

“I’m not looking to win the practices. I’m looking to get ready for the training camp and get ready for the season,” Roman said. “Every opportunity, whether a good result or a bad result, on a play this time of year is a great thing because it gives us an opportunity to grow from it.”

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metcalf

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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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bowser

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Now or never for Bowser, T. Williams to boost Ravens pass rush

Posted on 29 March 2019 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh wasn’t using coach speak when discussing Ravens outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams at the league meetings in Arizona this past week.

Sure, this is the time of year NFL coaches tend to talk up even the least deserving of young players with meaningful games still months away. But when a team has lost its 2018 sacks leader (Za’Darius Smith) as well as a potential future Hall of Famer who recorded nearly twice as many quarterback takedowns as anyone else in franchise history (Terrell Suggs) and hasn’t replaced either a few weeks into free agency, the in-house candidates to replace them become more prominent.

A veteran could still fall into Baltimore’s lap and perhaps a high-impact prospect will be sitting on the board when Eric DeCosta makes his first draft pick as general manager next month, but the odds suggest at least one of Bowser and Williams must take a meaningful step forward if the Ravens don’t want their pass rush to fall off a cliff in 2019. You can only ask so much of incumbent starting outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who is also scheduled to become a free agent next winter.

“The two young guys, Tyus and Timmy, need to step up. It’s their job to do that,” Harbaugh said. “They’re very committed to doing it. I’ve talked to both of them. Both are excited about their opportunities. They have it, and let’s roll. Then, whatever young guys we add or if someone gets added as a veteran — there’s a possibility of that still — we’ll just see.”

Bowser and Williams were drafted two years ago for this very scenario with Suggs no longer in the picture, but their development has been a source of disappointment with neither having played more than 162 defensive snaps in a season. The optimist would point to the lack of opportunities behind Suggs, Judon, and Smith — a trio who combined to register 22 1/2 sacks last season — as the reason for Bowser and Williams accomplishing so little to this point. But defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s propensity for rotating players at every level of the defense and the 36-year-old Suggs registering only 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 make it difficult to believe the Ravens wouldn’t have preferred keeping the seven-time Pro Bowl selection on more of a pitch count if Bowser or Williams were deemed ready.

Williams, a 2017 third-round pick from Alabama, was active for just eight games as a rookie, but he showed promise last preseason with 2 1/2 sacks and collected two more over the first four regular-season games before sustaining a minor hamstring injury. The 25-year-old appeared in just three more games before hurting his ankle and being inactive for the final nine contests, which included the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The ankle injury wasn’t the only problem, however, as the rush specialist struggled to maintain his playing weight and seemingly fell out of favor with the coaching staff as Harbaugh bluntly stated in Week 16 the need for a healthy Williams to be one of the best 46 players in order to be active. Another obstacle has been Williams’ inability to make an impact in other ways as he’s taken part in just 60 plays on special teams in two seasons.

Bowser’s inability to carve out a meaningful role in the rotation is more curious since the 2017 second-round pick from Houston is more versatile than Williams and has been active for all but one game in two seasons, playing extensively on special teams. The 23-year-old seemed on his way to a successful rookie season when he registered a sack and an interception in his second NFL game, a 35-snap performance that earned him the NFL’s rookie of the week award. The problem is Bowser followed that with a poor eight-snap showing the following week in the Ravens’ ugly loss in London, giving up a touchdown pass in coverage and failing to set the edge on several runs. Bowser has been chasing playing time ever since, seeing more than 15 defensive snaps in a game just four times since Week 2 of 2017 and rarely distinguishing himself when he’s been on the field.

The urgency is high with both as they enter their third season in Baltimore, but neither should be written off because of the lackluster start to their careers. Former second-round pick Paul Kruger recorded one sack and appeared in only 20 games — special teams being a substantial reason why — in his first two years before registering 14 1/2 quarterback takedowns over the next two seasons to fetch a $40 million contract with Cleveland after Super Bowl XLVII. Both Smith and Pernell McPhee were inconsistent over their first few seasons before ultimately breaking out in their contrast year and cashing in as free agents.

On the other hand, Baltimore gave up on 2016 Day 2 picks Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi after two disappointing seasons, meaning Bowser or Williams shouldn’t assume anything despite the current lack of depth at the position.

Yes, DeCosta still has the time and resources to add more competition at outside linebacker, but the Ravens have other needs and there is no guarantee the right veteran will shake free or a rookie pass rusher selected in even the first round will be ready to make an immediate impact. The Ravens’ best chance of keeping their pass rush on the right track in 2019 is getting an appropriate return on the investments made in Bowser and Williams.

Few young players on the roster should be feeling more pressure this spring and summer.

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ingram

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first wave of free agency

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making significant additions and enduring substantial losses in the first wave of free agency, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t think the departure of Terrell Suggs has sunk in as most expected one of the franchise’s most iconic players to return for a 17th season. While Ray Lewis had the storybook ending and Ed Reed’s free-agent exit played out more gradually, Monday’s news was so abrupt.

2. Adding 29-year-old Mark Ingram made less sense if 2019 were shaping up to be more of a transition year with an eye toward the future, but he’s a well-rounded upgrade and has lower mileage as a timeshare back. His pass protection is also an upgrade over incumbents. Solid signing.

3. Ingram’s perception suffers from an “Alvin Kamara effect” as well as the infatuation some had with signing Le’Veon Bell, but he ranks first in yards per carry (4.71) and fourth in yards after contact per attempt (2.90) among backs with 550 carries since 2014, per Pro Football Focus. He’ll help.

4. Talent and on-field production are paramount, but I couldn’t help but think Ingram’s reputation in New Orleans and Earl Thomas’ winning pedigree in Seattle carry extra weight with the level of experience and leadership leaving Owings Mills this offseason.

5. The Thomas signing certainly reinforced Baltimore’s philosophy at safety after the organization failed with early draft picks and “value” signings early in the post-Ed Reed era. The Ravens have now given out a safety contract of $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons.

6. Those with a longer-term viewpoint may not have cared for Eric DeCosta forgoing potential third- and fifth-round compensatory picks to sign Thomas and Ingram, but you can’t hold yourself prisoner to what still amounts to lower-percentage draft choices if the right free agent is available. There’s a middle road.

7. An optimistic outlook would say Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams haven’t had enough snaps to show what they can do, but coaches would have loved to have eased Suggs’ workload last year if either were deemed worthy. Either way, these 2017 draft picks have much to prove.

8. Adding a pass rusher or two must be a top priority for a front seven that’s endured substantial losses. That said, I think a great secondary carries more value in today’s game with more quick-drop passing and run-pass options that can really neutralize edge pressure.

9. More snaps are in order for the 2018 platoon of Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young, but a Daryl Smith-like stopgap would make me feel better about inside linebacker rather than expecting both to fill a full-time role without a hitch. We’ll found out how much Baltimore will miss C.J. Mosley.

10. Matt Skura received an additional $533,558 — a league high — in 2018 performance-based pay, a collectively-bargained program that compensates players based upon their playing time relative to salary levels. Making a $555,000 salary last year, Skura has provided good value making 28 starts the last two seasons.

11. Wink Martindale deserves much credit for last year’s defensive success, but losing Eric Weddle, Suggs, and Mosley will challenge the coordinator who gave those veterans so much freedom to make modifications before the snap. Thomas’ arrival helps, but there will certainly be an adjustment.

12. How does a Sunday night or Monday matchup of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and the Cleveland passing game against Thomas, Marlon Humphrey, and the Baltimore secondary sound? Dismissing Pittsburgh would be very unwise, but Ravens-Browns sounds pretty darn interesting now.

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tavonyoung

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Ravens reach contract extension with cornerback Tavon Young

Posted on 21 February 2019 by Luke Jones

At his introductory press conference last month, new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta shared a desire to retain talented young players long before they reach free agency when the cost and risk of losing them rise.

Baltimore has apparently done that with slot cornerback Tavon Young, who tweeted Thursday he’s reached a contract extension with the organization that selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. The Ravens announced they’ll hold a Friday morning press conference with DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and an unnamed player expected to be the fourth-year defensive back.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the agreement is a three-year, $25.8 million contract with a max value of $29 million, which will make Young the highest-paid nickel corner in the NFL.

Young, 24, had one year remaining on his rookie contract and was scheduled to make just over $2 million in 2019 after reaching the proven performance escalator that’s in place for later-round draft picks. Despite missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Young has filled a significant role in the Ravens secondary, playing in 31 games and making 17 starts. He showed the ability to play outside as a rookie despite his diminutive size, but the presence of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Jimmy Smith allowed him to remain in the slot for his third NFL season.

Teammates and coaches have often praised Young’s toughness with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale even labeling him “a pit bull” last season.

“Tavon is very aggressive. He has great ball skills. He’s a good tackler,” secondary coach Chris Hewitt said last November. “He’s having that small linebacker [role] being able to cover and be able to play against the run as well. Having a slot corner be able to cover, that’s paramount in a league where you’re facing three wide-receiver sets every time.”

The Oxon Hill native and Temple product rebounded nicely from the knee injury this past season, appearing in 15 games and collecting 37 tackles, one interception, and five pass breakups. He returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the final month of the season before missing the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a sports hernia that required offseason surgery.

Young being a priority for an extension is a reflection of today’s NFL in which most teams use the nickel package as their base defense. Despite missing two whole games and parts of others with the sports hernia, the slot cornerback played over 58 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps in 2018.

With veteran quarterback Joe Flacco set to be traded to Denver next month and the 22-year-old Lamar Jackson — and his cheap rookie contract — entering his first full season as the starter, the Ravens find themselves in a better salary-cap position than they’ve enjoyed in years. Young is the first to reap the benefits of that flexibility.

“We would love to keep as much young talent as we can in Baltimore,” DeCosta said last month. “That’s hard to do at times when you have a really, really good quarterback who’s making a lot of money and you have less cap room. It’s tougher for you to keep your roster intact. It is a lot easier to do when you don’t have those parameters.”

It remains to be seen which other young players the Ravens are hoping to extend, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley and outside linebacker Matthew Judon headline the list of logical candidates who aren’t scheduled to hit the market this offseason.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-24 win over Cleveland

Posted on 01 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first AFC North championship since 2012 with a 26-24 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The running game produced a season-high 296 yards and finished 2018 with the second-most rushing yards (2,441) in franchise history behind the 2003 team and ahead of the 2008 Ravens. What do those three playoff squads have in common? A rookie quarterback started a large portion of their games.

2. From going for a fourth-and-1 on the 48 on the first drive to using Cover 0 on the final four defensive plays, Baltimore was aggressive with the season on the line. Wink Martindale’s mindset was quite the contrast from rushing four and playing zone on fourth-and-12 last New Year’s Eve.

3. C.J. Mosley hasn’t had his best season and may not be worth the money required to re-sign him, but he made the game-sealing interception and was credited with four hurries by Pro Football Focus. I’ll maintain he’s underappreciated by much of a fan base using Ray Lewis as its standard.

4. Sam Koch deserves much credit for his 51-yard punt that put the Browns on their own 26 for their final drive. After a 37-yard return earlier, Antonio Callaway had nowhere to go near the sideline. A lesser punt very likely would have given Cleveland a potential game-winning field goal try.

5. The Ravens were an inch or two away from a 27-7 lead before Lamar Jackson’s fumble at the goal line. Not only were they fortunate a whistle prevented a Cleveland touchdown the other way, but the Browns failed to take advantage of further sloppy play from Baltimore before halftime.

6. Baker Mayfield made mistakes, but I couldn’t help but feel the Browns wasted plays at times trying to run and throw to the flats when they were having so much success pushing it down the field. The 7.6 yards per play allowed was easily a season worst for the Ravens.

7. Even in victory, it was concerning to see the offense unable to sustain a late drive to protect a one-score lead for the second straight contest. Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling inside the red zone and on that fourth-quarter drive was questionable.

8. It’s been an up-and-down season for Jimmy Smith, but he came up with the first two-interception game by a Baltimore player since 2013. Per PFF, he allowed just one catch for one yard on seven targets into his coverage. Especially with Marlon Humphrey struggling mightily, that was a critical performance.

9. The short-term ramifications of Sunday’s game dominated the attention, but I’ll gladly sign up for many more Jackson-Mayfield meetings in the years to come. Terrell Suggs’ praise for both rookies said it all. Ben Roethlisberger remains the AFC North quarterback king for now, but a shift is already underway.

10. John Brown registered games of 116 receiving yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 4 and 134 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans. Since Jackson became the starter, Brown has a total of eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. That’s rough playing on a one-year deal.

11. Sunday’s playoff contest will mark exactly six years since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed played their final home game as Ravens. It’s fitting Jackson, the most exciting player to arrive in Baltimore since Super Bowl XLVII, will start his first playoff game on that anniversary. What fun it should be.

12. Opinions differed on the black jerseys being paired with the purple pants for the first time, but I liked the unique look and hope to see it again, especially for a prime-time game. That was the 10th different uniform combination used by Baltimore this year. Oregon who?

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Ravens defense facing biggest challenge yet in Kansas City

Posted on 06 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith compared Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a young Brett Favre.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said the second-year quarterback reminds him of Joe Montana and called Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill “the fastest human being I’ve ever seen wear a helmet.” The coach also noted how you don’t stop Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce as much as you merely try to limit his big plays.

You’d say the top-ranked Ravens defense is buttering up its opponent until you dive into the numbers for an offense averaging 37.0 points and 437.2 yards per game. With a quarter of the regular season to go, Mahomes has already thrown 41 touchdowns while Hill and Kelce have each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with a combined 20 touchdown catches.

Even after holding Atlanta to just nine offensive points in last week’s victory, the Ravens understand what awaits at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s a road challenge unlike any they’ve encountered this season.

“We know we have to go out and play great to have a chance to win this game, let alone stop them,” safety Eric Weddle said. “In reality, holding this team to what we did [against the Falcons last week] is probably not going to happen. But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone.”

Those prospects don’t sound as encouraging when you consider Baltimore is tied for 30th in the NFL with just nine takeaways and hasn’t intercepted a pass since Week 5. The Ravens have surrendered a league-best 17.8 points per game, but their red-zone defense is an underwhelming 25th with opponents maximizing their opportunities inside the 20, rare as they might be.

Those red-zone issues largely stem from problems covering tight ends, which is even more concerning against a unique talent like Kelce. Despite ranking second in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens have allowed a touchdown reception to a tight end in five of the last six games and rank 25th in the NFL against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric.

Kelce has caught 79 passes for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns this season and lines up all over the field, making him a matchup nightmare for even the best defenses. According to ESPN, he ranks second in the league in receiving yards from the slot and first in yards after the catch from the slot, meaning Kelce should be treated more like a receiver than a tight end typically covered by a linebacker or safety.

Might the Ravens be better served using one of their big cornerbacks like Smith or Marlon Humphrey to travel with Kelce when he lines up away from the tackle box?

“It’s interesting. I didn’t think about that,” said Smith as he smiled when presented with the possibility. “I don’t know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at.”

The Ravens will need to vary their fronts and coverages — one of their biggest strengths — to try to keep the Chiefs guessing. As Martindale said, “If they know what you’re in, they will slaughter you.”

Home cooking for Chiefs defense?

Many have cited the Ravens’ need to continue to run the ball effectively to control the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions, but assumptions that they’ll be able to score plenty might be premature.

Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense, 22nd in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in points allowed per game, but the splits suggest a more formidable defense playing at home. The Ravens should take comfort in the Chiefs allowing an ugly 5.3 yards per carry at home, but they’ve surrendered just 17.6 points per game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is less than the 18.7 points per game allowed by Baltimore on the road this year.

The Chiefs have registered eight of their 11 interceptions and 21 of their 39 sacks in their five home games, a profile that doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a passing game that’s been inconsistent at best over these last three weeks. The Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last three games, but they’ve managed just five offensive touchdowns and have gone 5-for-10 inside the red zone over that stretch.

They’ll need to do better than that to have a good chance on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense may not be as cooperative as many are assuming at first glance.

Suggs on L.T.’s heels

Following the win in Atlanta, Martindale received a call from his son informing him 16th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs was now only one sack away from passing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.

“I won’t tell you what I told my son because I’m going to keep it clean up here, but I said, ‘Wow!’” Martindale said. “You don’t think about that because we see ‘Sizz’ all the time, every day.”

Suggs recorded the 132nd sack of his career against the Falcons in Week 13, just a half shy of the New York Giants legend’s total. It’s fair noting Taylor accumulated his 132 1/2 in 13 seasons, but Suggs moving into 13th place on the all-time list with his next quarterback takedown will only strengthen his case for Canton one day.

The 36-year-old needs 3 1/2 sacks in the final four games to record the eighth double-digit sack campaign of his career.

Injury report

Humphrey missed his second straight practice with a groin injury, heightening concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) and left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) also missed Thursday’s session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was a limited participant once again and is moving around better in practices than he did last week, but it remains unclear whether he’ll be cleared to be active for Week 14. Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) continues to be limited after both he and head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope earlier this week for his potential return after a six-game absence.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Demetrius Harris (illness/knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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