LaDainian Tomlinson and Willie McGinest: Joe Flacco Has "Nothing to Worry About" in QB Competition
With the first day of Ravens training camp in the books, much of the focus was, and will remain, on quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson.
While Flacco only participated in individual drills Thursday, Jackson took most 11-on-11 reps and got some major buzz with two highlights with deep bombs to wide receivers Jordan Lasley and Willie Snead IV.
As you will hear a million more times this preseason, there are many questions surrounding how long Flacco will remain the starter with a young quarterback on his heels.
Well, according to two seasoned veterans who have experience on both sides of the ball, Flacco has nothing to worry about in 2018.
"I would say this year for sure," former Patriot and Browns linebacker Willie McGinest said on NFL Network regarding how long Flacco will remain the starter.
"When you talk about a young guy coming in that's exciting, that can make plays, that we know is still going to have some trouble digesting the playbook and the system, the touch on the football, whatever it is that Lamar Jackson that he needs to improve on. I think there's a ways before they think that he's gonna come in and just take Joe Flacco's position."
The three-time Super Bowl champion notes the effort the Ravens put in during the offseason to acquire new offensive weapons for Flacco in wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Snead, as well as rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews.
"Now when you put all those weapons...around Joe Flacco, that's telling me that they're trying to improve this offense in a lot of different ways for him," McGinest said. "A guy that can throw the ball all over the field. A guy that can make those big arm plays. A guy that already understands the system. And we're bringing you help. And guess what? We're also going to create a role for this young phenom that we have behind you."
LaDainian Tomlinson, a Hall of Famer and five-time Pro Bowl running back, agrees that it's not quite Jackson's time.
"I completely agree," Tomlinson said. "I don't think Joe Flacco has anything to worry about this year. By all accounts, we have heard already that Lamar Jackson is just not ready right now to play from the pocket. Sure, they're going to create packages for him to get him on the field. He's a dynamic athlete and he will make plays during the game in another facet. Now maybe they create a wildcat package – eight to 10 plays for him – but in terms of being the full-time starter every day, that's Joe Flacco. I don't think he has anything to worry about."
Defensive End Brent Urban Looking to Pick Up Where He Left Off
The first day of training camp could not have come soon enough for Brent Urban. The defensive end had his 2017 season cut short after suffering a Lisfranc injury during the Ravens' overseas loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"The goal is to get back to where I left off," Urban told Edward Lee of The Baltimore Sun.
"I'm coming into it feeling pretty good. Mentally, I'm a lot more mature, and I feel like I can do just what I was doing last year. That's the goal, to get back into the swing of things. We even have an extra week of training camp. So, I think that will help me just acclimate and get used to things at a slower pace, which is a good thing for me because I've been out of it for so long."
In four seasons with the Ravens, Urban has only played in 25 games with three passes defended, three sacks, 16 tackles and nine assists.
Besides suffering the Lisfranc injury – which occurs if bones in the midfoot are broken or ligaments that support the area are torn – Urban was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the 2014 season after tearing his ACL in training camp. In 2015, he tore his biceps muscle during training camp, but returned to the roster in Week 12.
The talent is there for the 27-year old; the focus is now on staying healthy. He was projected to be a big-time starter last season and got off to a hot start. "Urban was one of the defense's top performers last preseason," Lee noted.
The Ravens signed Urban to a one-year contract extension worth $1 million back in March. Now it's time to get to work.
"I've been waiting since October to get out there," Urban said. "So it was a long time, and I'm excited to get back out there with my teammates and get back into the swing of things. Just a great first day. I missed the game a lot, and it feels great to be back."
Ravens Rank Sixth in Pro Football Focus' Run-Defense Grades Among Returning Players
The passing game reigns supreme in the NFL right now, but that doesn't mean stopping the run is any less important.
During the 2017 season, the Ravens defense ranked sixth in points allowed (18.9), 12th in yards per game (325.1), 10th in passing yards (213.8) and 15th in rushing yards (111.2).
But how did their run-defense rank against all other 31 teams? Pro Football Focus looked at how each NFL team ranks in their ability to stop the run. The grades are based off the 2017 season alone.
Brandon Williams earned top honors for the Ravens with an 89.0 run-defense grade, followed by Terrell Suggs at 87.4 and finally, Michael Pierce with an 86.4 run-defense grade.
"The Ravens are stout up front and it starts with their players on the defensive interior," Pro Football Focus wrote.
"Williams was tied for the fifth-highest run-defense grade among interior defensive linemen at 89.0, and ranked third among 3-4 defensive ends with a 11.0 run-stop percentage. At nose tackle, Pierce was fifth among defensive tackles with an 11.8 run-stop percentage, while he ranked 17th among players on the defensive interior with a PFF grade of 86.4 against the run. Suggs has been one of the top run defenders in the NFL throughout his career and despite his advancing years, still ranked 10th among edge defenders with a PFF grade of 87.4 last year."
Ranked above the Ravens are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers, respectively.
The Ravens also ranked fifth in missed tackle percentage on run plays in 2017 at 10.0 percent.
USA TODAY Projects 7-9 Record For the Ravens in 2018
With summer vacation coming to an end for every NFL team next week, it's time for early season projections.
Projections in the middle of July should be taken with a grain of salt. Sadly, injuries will begin to occur and there's very limited intel on how a team that typically has a decent amount of new parts is functioning.
USA TODAY’s Nate Davis gave his annual prediction of how the 2018 season will unfold, and he does not have the Ravens with a winning record. Davis predicts the Ravens will finish at 7-9.
"They've been stuck on average for a while," he wrote. "Fires have been lit under Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh, but can this team generate enough heat to successfully navigate a lineup fraught with tough opponents from the AFC West and NFC South?"
In eight of their last 10 seasons, the Ravens have finished with a winning record. Just last year – a year many considered a down year – the team finished at 9-7.
In the AFC North, Davis has the Pittsburgh Steelers at 10-6 after ending the 2017 season at 13-3, the Cincinnati Bengals repeating their 2017 season at 7-9 and the Cleveland Browns at 5-11 after going 0-16 in 2017.
● Jackson received at least one vote in the 2016 Presidential Election. According to Matt Flegenheimer of the New York Times, fan Louis Ballard could not bring himself to vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, so instead, he cast his vote for the then Louisville quarterback. Jackson was made aware of the vote and appreciates the support. However, he was just 19 at the time and legally far too young to become President.
● Baltimore Wire’s Steve Rudden is expecting Flacco to have a Pro Bowl-type season. "Now that he's healthy to start training camp, he's got plenty of time to get in rhythm with his new offensive receivers and tight ends," Rudden writes. "It'll be good if Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown all have productive seasons under Flacco. If that happens, then the Baltimore Ravens will surely make the playoffs and Joe Flacco will make his first ever Pro Bowl." Rudden notes the numbers Flacco put up once he got healthy during the second half of the 2017 season and expects the QB to put up even better ones come 2018.