Scattershooting about the Ravens through two weeks of Organized Team Activity practices:
It’s no secret the Ravens have used the draft and free agency to bolster their secondary. No NFL team is spending more on cornerbacks and safeties in 2019.
They’re so deep at those positions that a few players who belong on the field in the NFL will be hard-pressed to make the roster.
That’s one of my takeaways from watching them together on the practice field and doing a little math.
Let’s say the Ravens end up keeping six cornerbacks and four safeties, their usual allotment. Right now, it’s a good bet the safeties would be starters Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson and backups Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott; and the corners would be Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young and recent draft picks Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall.
That leaves out Justin Bethel and Anthony Levine Sr., special-teams aces who also play defensive back; and veterans Maurice Canady, Cyrus Jones and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. But the Ravens like those guys. Levine is valuable in several roles. Bethel was a free agent signing. Jones was the team’s top punt returner in 2018. Canady has been on the field in crucial situations. Baptiste had the team made a year ago until he suffered an injury.
I’m not ready to say anyone is in danger of losing their jobs. It’s too soon for those calculations. Injuries and time have a way of changing the situation at a position. The ability to contribute on special teams will be a factor.
But with so many capable defensive backs on hand, it seems inevitable that quality talent is going to get cut loose.
Yes, the Ravens could ease the crunch in the secondary by making Smith, their highest-paid player in 2019, a salary cap casualty. A few months ago, there was a lot of speculation that they’d do that to give themselves more room to make other moves.
But they’ve kept Smith, 30, despite his whopping $15.85 cap hit. Why? Smith has experienced his share of injuries and ups and downs, but he played extremely well late last season, suggesting more good play lies ahead. Meanwhile, the Ravens believe their performance-recovery unit is keeping guys healthier.
When healthy, Smith is still the team’s top cornerback. You don’t part ways with that guy.
During Thursday’s open-to-the-media OTA, rookie running back Justice Hill showcased nifty pass-catching skills and eye-opening speed. It’s still super early, but I’d be surprised if the coaches aren’t already plotting how to get the ball in his hands.
There were plenty of absences Thursday, but the fact that Thomas was on the field was a huge plus. It was obvious the Ravens’ top free agent acquisition of 2019 wasn’t trying to do too much, but he suffered a season-ending lower leg fracture just nine months ago. Questions about lingering effects are inevitable, but the sight of him on the field this soon suggests those questions soon might be irrelevant.
The idea of putting former Ravens head coach Brian Billick in the Ring of Honor gets a major thumbs up from me.
It’s easy to forget the Ravens were just three years into their tenure in Baltimore and pretty much floundering when Billick was hired. They’d gone 16-31-1 in those three years. After two years under Billick, they were Super Bowl champions.
Yes, he inherited a growing assemblage of talent, but someone had to take that rough block of clay and shape it into a winning team. Billick maxed out on that project, establishing a tone that still exists in many ways.
His successor, John Harbaugh, did a nice job of framing his contribution Thursday, calling Billick “one of the unique coaches, one of the guys that did it his own way, just with a lot of fire and a lot of enthusiasm, and established a culture here for toughness and for – I don’t know if ‘brashness’ is the right word – but certainly (playing) with confidence and swagger.”
My pick for the Ravens player who has improved his lot the most in the past year is, well, how can anyone touch Peanut Onwuasor?
A year ago, he was thought to be competing for snaps with an impressive rookie, Kenny Young, at inside linebacker alongside C.J. Mosley. There was speculation that Young had more upside.
But Onwuasor engineered a breakout performance in 2018, and when he stepped to the podium Thursday, he was asked how it felt to take over for Mosley as the centerpiece of the defense.
That’s quite a rise.