Ravens Beginning To Look Whole Again
In a matter of eight days, the Ravens got four major players back from serious injury.
It started with defensive leader Terrell Suggs last Monday, followed by No. 1 receiver Steve Smith Sr. on Friday, and then sack master Elvis Dumervil and first-round receiver Breshad Perriman returned yesterday.
Sure, there are some bumps and bruises here and there, and some players might miss chunks of the season. But as of right now, none of the starters are expected to miss the regular-season opener when Buffalo Bills come to visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 11 (knock on wood).
"Ravens beginning to look whole again," reads a Baltimore Sun headline.
"With a healthy squad last season pundits had Baltimore as a Super Bowl candidate, but 17 IR'd players later the Ravens fell to 5-11," added Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle P Barber. "Baltimore is back now, and ready to demonstrate just what they should have been last season."
Activating the four off of the physically unable to perform list feels like the final pieces of the puzzle, as the Ravens have already seen that quarterback Joe Flacco is playing like he never had knee surgery. There's also the return of Justin Forsett, Crockett Gillmore, Will Davis, Michael Campanaro, etc.
Except for Perriman, it's not a necessity that the recently-activated PUP players participate in a preseason game considering their experience. They have 3-4 weeks to knock the rust off in practice. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that if trainers clear Perriman, he will definitely play in the final two preseason games against the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints.
We know the impact that Suggs, Dumervil and Smith will have on the team, but ESPN's Jamison Hensley called Perriman the Ravens' "biggest wild card" because he hasn't yet completed a full training practice and he's never seen game action.
"[T]he biggest question is what should the Ravens expect when the No. 26 overall pick from 2015 finally steps on the field," he wrote. "Will Perriman provide an instant impact like Amari Cooper? Or will he be a work in progress like Nelson Agholor?
"What the Ravens do know is Perriman brings a skill set unlike any other on the team. Flacco can throw to Steve Smith Sr. and Benjamin Watson on clutch third downs or in the red zone. He can hit Mike Wallace or Chris Moore deep downfield. Perriman is the only receiver who has the combination of size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and scintillating speed (4.2 seconds 40-yard time at his pro day). With all of Perriman's injuries, it's easy to forget the amount of upside he brings. The Ravens had Perriman ranked No. 14 on their draft board, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. once said Perriman has the potential to be a Dez Bryant type of a receiver."
It's finally time to find out how Perriman can elevate the passing attack.
And it's finally time to see what a "whole" Ravens squad can do in the regular season.
"It feels good. It just feels like everything that we lost last year, we are getting it all back. All of us are back out here practicing," Suggs said Friday. "Now we are getting our swag back and our chemistry. Everything is starting to feel good, and now we are starting to feel like the Ravens again. It is key; it is big. It goes a long way for morale, too."
Does Matt Elam's Injury Mark The End Of His Ravens' Career?
Unfortunately for reserve safety Matt Elam, he's on the wrong side of the Ravens' upward-moving health trend. And, it could mark the end of his time with the team that drafted him.
For the second consecutive season, Elam sustained a significant injury before the season-opener, hurting his chances of redemption. The 2013 first-round draft pick struggled to live up to his draft status early in his career, but torn biceps last year and now surgery for a chip in his knee have stood in his way.
Elam was already in a tight roster battle with Terrence Brooks for perhaps the last safety job available with Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis taking the top three spots.
Harbaugh said Elam's injury is not season ending, but now General Manager Ozzie Newsome has to decide whether to give Elam a precious roster spot while he heals, cut him with an injury settlement or add him to injured reserve (IR) with the possibility of activating him once he's healthy. The Ravens can only activate one person from IR, however, and those moves would more likely be reserved for starters.
"Baltimore didn't use that IR designation on Elam last year, so that's probably not in play this time," wrote Hensley.
The Ravens opted not to pick up Elam's fifth year on his rookie contract, which means he's scheduled to be a free agent come March no matter what they chose to with his roster spot this season.
"Elam was starting to look like the safety the Ravens envisioned until he fell on his knee Saturday," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens have never had to part ways with a first-round pick before his rookie contract expired. But Elam's latest injury might force the Ravens into cutting a player that was making a serious run at the season-opening roster."
Roster Decisions Becoming Less Daunting
Elam is just one example of how the Ravens' task to trim the roster from 90 to 75 a week from today is becoming "less daunting" as suspensions, injuries, and performance have "conspired to lessen some of the intrigue," says The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
He points to several that will impact roster decisions.
With Elam down, Brooks figures to make the team. Kyle Arrington's concussion opens things up at corner. There's also running back Lorenzo Taliaferro who looks like will remain on the PUP for the start of the season. Darren Waller and Nick Boyle's suspensions make things easier at tight end. Rookie Bronson Kaufusi's likely season-ending ankle injury may allow another defensive lineman to make the team.
"Injuries to Kaelin Clay and Chris Matthews (he's returned, but is there enough time?), and the struggles of rookie Keenan Reynolds may have made decisions a little easier at wide receiver," Zrebiec wrote.
"The Ravens also have about 15 guys who are more camp bodies than legitimate candidates to make the team."
Ravens Trying To Hide Victor Ochi?
Outside linebacker/defensive end Victor Ochi is an undrafted rookie we've heard about throughout camp as a candidate that could extend the Ravens' long history of finding undrafted gems and turn them into eventual starters.
Fans want to see what the media has been writing about from practice, but Ochi hasn't seen very many snaps in the first two preseason games. Zrebiec says that shouldn't be a surprise.
"Ochi plays with great effort and toughness, but he also plays a position where the Ravens are loaded with numbers," he wrote.
As good as Ochi has been, he's not leapfrogging Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za'Darius Smith, Albert McClellan and Matthew Judon. And he's not outplayed Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore at defensive end either.
"Perhaps, the Ravens feel that in not playing Ochi much in the preseason, they might be able to sneak him through waivers and onto their practice squad," Zrebiec wrote. "I'm not sure that's going to work because teams are obsessed with finding pass rushers and Ochi was a highly sought-after college free agent. However, it's probably worth a try because it's hard to find a roster spot for Ochi even if he played really well this preseason."
More Clarity In The Return Game
As long as Michael Campanaro stays healthy, it looks like the punt return job is his after a grueling training camp battle, CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown.
Campanaro was the only player to return a punt in Saturday night's contest in Indianapolis, which he ran back for 21 yards. He also cleanly secured a fair catch without bubbling or fumbling it, which has been a problem for other return candidates.
"Rookie Keenan Reynolds simply has not been sure-handed enough during practices," wrote Brown. "Reynolds may get another look in the next game, but Campanaro is a safer option if he can remain available."
Ryan Jensen Can't Get Pancaked Like That
When the Ravens are in third- or fourth-and short situations, they must find a way to pick up a first down to extend drives. And even more importantly, when they are 1 yard shy of the end zone, they need to punch it in.
Saturday night, they missed out on an opportunity to score from the 1 because guard/center Ryan Jensen was completely knocked back into running back Kenneth Dixon on third-and-goal.
"Despite being a versatile backup, center Ryan Jensen had arguably the most embarrassing play of the evening when he was completely pancaked," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "Not a good look."