John Harbaugh: 2016 Season Starts Now


Get ready to see a heavy dose of the Ravens' young players for the final three weeks of the season.

With the Ravens struggling and out of playoff contention, Head Coach John Harbaugh has decided to inject the lineup with young players waiting for an opportunity get on the field.

The strategy will shake up the lineup to some degree and also allow the team to get the best overall assessment of the roster moving into a critical 2016 offseason.

"Our ending point this year is our jumping off point for next year," Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. "In my mind, next year's season has already begun. We're developing these guys. We're developing what we're going to be next year. So, let's go, man. Let's see how good we can get."

The plan to use more young players and prepare for the future is a common strategy for teams out of the playoff race, but Harbaugh stressed that he's not just playing for the future at the expense of still trying to win games now.

"I think they go hand in hand," Harbaugh said. "The idea is that we want to be the best football team we can be. We're going to put our best lineup out there to win football games. We're not just going to try guys out. We're putting our best players out there, and then let's see how well these guys play and let's see where we begin next year."

Harbaugh emphasized that the strategy centers around the idea of putting players in the best position to succeed, even if there is more of an inherent risk by playing young players without much experience.

"They're going to get more of a chance, but it's also what we think gives us the best chance to be successful," Harbaugh said. "Hey, you know what, maybe we're rolling the dice a little bit more – and sometimes you don't want to put young guys out there – but let's put guys in spots where they can be most successful."

The player Harbaugh highlighted to illustrate his point was cornerback Lardarius Webb. The veteran corner has primarily played outside this season and throughout his career, but that is going to change.

The Ravens have dabbled in using Webb as a free safety, and he's played well in that limited sample size. The plan moving forward will be to get him more reps at safety and at nickel cornerback, and that opens an opportunity for a young cornerback like rookie Tray Walker to get reps as an outside corner.

"We have some young guys we can put outside. So, we're going to pull the trigger, put those guys outside, put Webby in there where he belongs, let him play the nickel, let him play free safety," Harbaugh said. "He looks great playing free safety back there."

Practice squad cornerbacks Jumal Rolle and Sheldon Price could also get the call up to the 53-man roster as the Ravens go with the youth movement.

That strategy will also carry over to other positions.

Kelechi Osemele has moved to left tackle to see if he could be the long-term answer, and Ryan Jensen has taken over at left guard. Safety Terrence Brooks could get more reps in the secondary.

Young defensive linemen Carl Davis and Kapron Lewis-Moore will likely see playing time after being healthy scratches the last few weeks. Defensive end Brent Urban will his playing time increase after his third NFL game. Their opportunity also comes as veteran defensive end Chris Canty will head to injured reserve with a torn pectoral.

"Those guys want to play," Harbaugh said. "Carl has had a couple weeks off to kind of study. He has been practicing, and let's see if he takes his game up a notch after being out for a couple weeks."

The process to get younger and start the evaluation process for next season will start Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. They're coming into the weekend as heavy favorites on a seven-game winning streak, but Harbaugh is still confident that his team can finish the season strong by getting the young players on the field.

"I know we have a lot of guys that can play," he said.  "We have to put them in the right spot the rest of the way. Let's not worry about young guys not ready to play. Let's put them out there and see what he can do. That's what I'm excited about doing."

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