Late For Work 12/8: Future Of Ravens Left Tackle Position In Doubt?

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Future Of Left Tackle Position In Doubt?

Both the short-term and long-term future of the Ravens left tackle position seem to be up in the air.

Starter Eugene Monroe may not play in the final four games of the season due to a shoulder injury, Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday night, and that's after he's already missed six contests this season.

Monroe will have an MRI on his nagging shoulder Wednesday, then he'll have a choice to make.

"Between him, his doctor and his agent, he'll just have to make a decision about whether he wants to play with it the rest of the year," Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference.

When asked if it has been difficult juggling the left tackle position this year, Harbaugh admitted, "Yes, it has been a real challenge."

Before coming to the Ravens, Monroe had a strong track record of durability, playing in at least 15 of 16 games in each of his first four years in the league. That record has not continued in Baltimore, and has gotten even worse recently. Of the Ravens' last 16 contests (regular season and playoffs), Monroe has only started and finished three.

It's enough for both CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown and The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker to wonder whether Monroe is the long-term answer.

"The Ravens need to find a new solution at left tackle for 2016," wrote Walker. "The Ravens can't rely on Monroe because of his fragility. They can't rely on [backup James] Hurst because of his performance. They need to draft or sign a new left tackle to protect a rehabilitated [Joe] Flacco next season."

"Monroe has not been the consistent contributor the Ravens expected when they traded for him in 2013," added Brown. "James Hurst has started most of the season at left tackle, but he has not played well enough for the Ravens to count on him as their starting left tackle moving forward." * *

The Ravens signed Monroe to a five-year deal in 2014, reportedly worth $37.5 million, which means he still has three years left on the deal after this season. 

Meanwhile, Hurst, a second-year player who came into the league as an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina, has been thrust into a challenging situation, protecting the blindside of quarterbacks Flacco and Matt Schaub. 

Hurst has been reliable, playing 546 snaps compared to Monroe's 319 this season, but Hurst has not graded out well. Statistical website Pro Football Focus (PFF) gives the youngster a cumulative minus-35.1 rating, which ranks No. 77 out of qualifying tackles this season.

"I don't like writing that about Hurst, because he did his best when he was thrown into the fire during last season's playoff march. But the evidence is mounting that he's just not a viable NFL left tackle," wrote Walker.

When playing in Miami last week, Hurst was called for a holding penalty that wiped off a first-down run by Terrance West in the fourth quarter when the Ravens had a chance to take the lead. On the next play, Schaub was taken down for a drive-ending sack when Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon came in from the blind side.

When Monroe has played, he's performed at a higher level. He is ranked as the No. 23 tackle by PFF with a plus-3.4 rating. The question is, can the Ravens rely on him to be on the field?

"Monroe is only 28 years old with obvious talent," wrote Brown. "Whether Monroe plays again this season or not, there will be some interesting Ravens front office conversations about the left tackle position during the offseason."

Boyle's Suspension Continues 'Dreadful' Year For 2015 Draft Class

Let's just get this disclaimer out there right now: rookie running back Buck Allen has been anything but "dreadful" this year.

But with tight end Nick Boyle's four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the reputation of the Ravens' 2015 draft class took another hit Monday in the media's eyes.

"Boyle's suspension continues what has been a dreadful year for the Ravens' 2015 draft class," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.

While Allen has admirably taken over the starting running back position (he produced 45 percent of the total offensive yards Sunday), Boyle seems to be the only other rookie that has consistently made an impact.

"With so many members of the 2015 draft class failing to contribute in meaningful ways this season, Boyle had been one of the lone highlights," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "First-round receiver Breshad Perriman suffered an eventual season-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp, [second-round tight end] Williams has been slow to make a big impact, and third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis has faded after a strong start to his rookie season."

While he hasn't racked up the sacks, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith has played in 11 of the team's 13 games while helping offset the loss of Terrell Suggs. And wide receiver Darren Waller showed flashes of potential, but landed on injured reserve.

Boyle was one of those surprise feel-good stories who made a name for himself despite being drafted in the fifth round while Williams got all the fanfare in April.

"The shame of it is here's a guy who's playing so well," Harbaugh said. "He's one of the gems of the draft class in terms of a fifth-round pick playing the way he does. He plays hard. He's been good in the pass game, good in the run game, smart, tough. He's got a tremendous future. I told him that today, 'It's just a shame you're going to miss four games here. You're playing like a veteran out there.'

"He'll learn from it, he's smart, and we'll move forward."

Allen The Next Matt Forte?

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Allen became just the third player in the past five seasons to have at least 15 rushes and 12 receptions in the same game.

Guess who the last player to do that was?

It was Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte in 2014.

And guess who the head coach was in Chicago when Forte also reached that mark?

Yup, Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman.

"[This] is more than just coincidence," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Like Forte, Allen is explosive with the ball in his hands. And, like Forte, Allen has the vision to find the lanes in between the tackles as a runner and has the size, strength and hands to make plays as a receiver."

Nobody is writing off starter Justin Forsett, who landed on injured reserve with a broken arm a few weeks ago. But if Allen keeps up this type of production, he will give Forsett a run for that starting role.

"Allen is making a strong case to keep the top spot even when starter Justin Forsett (broken arm) and top backup Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) return next year after suffering season-ending injuries," Hensley wrote.

Ravens Have Former Seahawks TE In For Visit

The Ravens had tight end Harold Spears in for a visit Monday, according to ESPN's Field Yates.

It comes as no surprise that the Ravens are scouring the market for tight ends, given Boyle's suspension and both Williams (concussion) and Crockett Gillmore's (back) injuries. Harbaugh said both tight ends have a good chance of playing Sunday, but the team will still need depth.

Baltimore could elevate Konrad Reuland from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

Spears is an undrafted rookie out of New Hampshire. He doesn't have game experience, but he did have a short stint with the Ravens' next opponent.

Cary Williams Cut, Fans Asking About A Return

The Seattle Seahawks released cornerback Cary Williams Monday, just a few days before their matchup with the Ravens.

It would've marked a return for the corner that made a name for himself in Baltimore. The 2008 seventh-round pick was cut by the Titans after one season in Tennessee. The Ravens scooped him up, gave him a chance to compete, and he ultimately became a 16-game starter for two seasons (2011-2012).

His strong play during the Ravens' Super Bowl year led to a nice contract with Philadelphia in 2013, and another big one with Seattle in March. Apparently, he hasn't lived up to expectations, however, as the Seahawks cut him this week after starting 10 games this season.

Given the success Williams had in his final Super Bowl season with the Ravens, fans are wondering whether it would be a good idea to bring him back to Baltimore.

If Luke Jones had a vote, it would be no.

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