Brian Baldinger: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board Are ‘Crazy Good’
There was some consternation among Ravens fans over the team’s inside linebackers after four-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley left in free agency this offseason. However, NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger says fans should be excited, not exasperated, about the unit.
Baldinger, who attended Monday’s Ravens training camp practice, was speaking specifically about Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor, who is moving from weakside linebacker into the middle linebacker position that had been occupied by Mosley, and Chris Board, who is competing with Kenny Young at weakside linebacker.
Mosley, who was selected by the Ravens in the first round in 2014, signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Jets. Onwuasor, entering his fourth season, and Board, entering his second, are both undrafted free agents.
“Nobody is lining up two undrafted free agents,” Baldinger said in his “Baldy’s Breakdowns” on Twitter. “These undrafted guys in Baltimore are crazy good. Crazy good. We’ve got to start talking about them -- a lot.”
Baldinger’s comments echoed those made by Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh in June.
“I know there’s a lot of talk about the linebacker position,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not worried about it one bit. I like the guys we have. The guys we have are going to be more than good enough. I think they’re going to play great, and I think you’re going to be talking about a lot of these guys.”
Onwuasor and Board are the latest undrafted linebackers to make an impact on defense and special teams for the Ravens, following in the footsteps of Bart Scott, Albert McClellan, Jameel McClain and Assistant Linebackers Coach Zachary Orr.
Onwuasor drew rave reviews from Baldinger for his performance in the Ravens’ 29-0 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in their preseason opener last week.
“He made every tackle to start the game against the Jags,” Baldinger said.
In breaking down one particular play in which Onwuasor tackled Jaguars running back Alfred Blue for no gain, Baldinger said: “Just watch his ability to find the football. The right angles, skates, stays alive – bam! And when he hits guys, they go down. He doesn’t miss tackles.”
Baldinger also marveled at the hit Onwuasor put on Jaguars wide receiver DJ Chark in the open field, which limited a pass play to a 2-yard gain.
“Who’s going to make the tackle after rushing the right guard? Who else? Peanut’s right there to make this hit. Just a little kiss – boom!” Baldinger said.
As for Board, who has pulled ahead in the competition to start at weakside linebacker, Baldinger said: “Chris Board can run with any inside linebacker in the league right now.”
Board led the Ravens with 12 special teams snaps last season, but played just 14 snaps on defense.
“There’s definitely an opportunity for young players to step in and make a name for ourselves. We all embrace it and we’re ready for a challenge,” Board said. “[Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale] spoke with me about coming in, stepping up and expanding my role, especially compared to last year. He definitely told me I’ll have a bigger role on defense.”
Daniel Jeremiah: Mark Ingram Will Lead the NFL in Rushing
NFL analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the “Move the Sticks” podcast are predicting a career year for Ravens running back Mark Ingram II, who is entering his ninth season.
“To me, Mark Ingram leads the NFL in rushing. That’s my hot take,” Jeremiah said of the former New Orleans Saints star, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2016 and 2017.
Brooks concurred: “Oh, I could see that one, because all eyes are going to be on [Lamar Jackson], so when he hands it, [Ingram] may hit some goal posts buck naked because everyone’s going to be looking for Lamar Jackson to pull it. We saw Gus Edwards have tremendous success with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, so I would expect a really good running back like Mark Ingram to also have a tremendous amount of success running the ball.”
In making their predictions for the AFC North, both Jeremiah and Brooks picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the division over the preseason favorite Cleveland Browns and defending division champion Ravens.
“Somehow, I just think the Steelers find a way to sneak the division … because they know how to do it,” Brooks said. “The three teams at the top – the Ravens, the Steelers and the Browns – all play a physical style. It’s going to be the last man standing.”
Speaking of predictions, CBS Sports’ Sean Wagner-McGough made five bold ones. Here’s a look at each of them:
Jackson doesn't account for more than 25 TDs: “Jackson's legs give him a chance to score a ton of touchdowns on the ground, and his athleticism should come in handy in the red zone -- not to mention, it wouldn't be surprising if he breaks free for a couple of big touchdowns. The question is, can he throw somewhere around 20 touchdowns? … Jackson's inconsistencies as a passer during his rookie season make me believe he’s more likely to finish with 20-25 touchdowns as opposed to 26-30 touchdowns.”
Justice Hill leads Ravens running backs in total yards: “While Ingram should start the season as the team's primary back, he might cede touches to Hill over the course of the season. And Hill is talented. He drew pre-draft comparisons to Phillip Lindsay. He averaged 1,281 yards from scrimmage per season at Oklahoma State. He's going to be a major weapon in the Ravens offense.”
Marquise Brown finishes with fewer than 800 receiving yards: “I don’t think his rookie season will be a failure. He should hit on several home runs. But consistency might be lacking between a young quarterback with spotty accuracy and a rookie receiver adjusting to the NFL.”
Earl Thomas sets a career high in interceptions: “He’s never eclipsed five picks in a single season. … As the beginning of last season proved, Thomas is hardly declining. He was on pace to set a new career high before an injury robbed him of that opportunity. He’s still the best single-high safety in football.”
Playoff berth come down to Weeks 16-17 – and the Ravens lose both: “It feels like a safe bet to say that the Ravens’ playoff hopes will come down to Weeks 16 and 17, when they’ll face the Browns in Cleveland and the Steelers at home. … The Ravens are a good football team. But this bold prediction says they’re not quite good enough to qualify for the playoffs.”
A New Undrafted Rookie to Keep an Eye on
Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari has entered the conversation for the starting left guard spot. During yesterday’s practice, he split snaps on the first team with third-year veteran Jermaine Eluemunor.
Mekari, out of the University of California, missed all of mandatory minicamp with a back injury, and Harbaugh said the plan is to see how Mekari can handle going against the starting defensive linemen.
Before yesterday, the competition at left guard – which Ravens Offensive Line Coach Joe D’Alessandris described as “a work in progress” – was between Eluemunor, fourth-round pick Ben Powers and veteran James Hurst. Eluemunor started against the Jaguars, but no one has emerged as the clear leader for the starting spot.
“Even if he doesn’t win a starting job, Mekari has positioned himself well to earn a place on the regular-season roster, a goal for any undrafted rookie,” Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. “The Ravens played Mekari at guard and center in the preseason opener, and he played offensive tackle over his final three seasons at Cal. Mekari’s versatility could factor into the Ravens’ decisions as they trim the roster from 91 to 53 before the Aug. 31 deadline.”
Kasinitz wrote that Mekari could become the latest in a long line of “hidden gems” the Ravens have discovered over the years.
“The Ravens have kept at least one undrafted rookie on their initial 53-man roster each of the past 15 years. Mekari might represent the team’s best chance to push that string to 16,” Kasinitz wrote.