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Late for Work 8/7: Two Ravens Fighting for Roster Spots Are Turning Heads at Training Camp

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Kenneth Dixon, Jaleel Scott Turning Heads at Training Camp

Roster conversation has begun to heat up as the Ravens will be forced to trim their 90-man roster to 53 players before the start of the regular season.

Running back Kenneth Dixon and wide receiver Jaleel Scott, two players who pundits consider to be fighting for the final spots at their positions, have had a strong showing throughout the early portions of training camp.

“I think on offense, the most surprising player has been Scott,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote. “The 4th-round pick last year, who spent entire season on IR, looks like a totally different guy. He's bigger, stronger and faster, and he's playing with confidence. He looked more like a deer in headlights last year.”

Scott was considered a raw talent coming out of New Mexico State but has the size and length to make an impact at 6-foot-5.

Zrebiec sees the top five receivers on the roster as Willie Snead IV, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore and Seth Roberts. If the Ravens take a sixth receiver, then Zrebiec believes the competition would come down to Scott and undrafted rookie Antoine Wesley.

“I give the edge for the 6th spot to Scott because he's faster and more athletic than Wesley and the Ravens invested a draft pick in him,” Zrebiec wrote.

Dixon was one of the Ravens’ most productive running backs down the stretch of the 2018 season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, but questions have surrounded his health and availability.

Running Backs Coach Matt Weiss praised Dixon yesterday, calling him “the most pure talent as a runner of the group,” and that’s been on display.

With Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, and rookie Justice Hill considered locks, there’s no guarantee the Ravens take four running backs, but a strong showing from Dixon would make that decision much more difficult.

“I'd actually like to see Dixon stay healthy and force the Ravens to make a tough decision on him,” Zrebiec wrote. “Guy is clearly talented. He just needs to stay healthy, take care of the ball and do what he's capable of. … Now it needs to translate to games and he needs to stay on the field.

Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler highlighted Dixon as one of the players who could steal the show in the preseason.

“Dixon will have ample opportunity,” Schisler wrote. “The former Louisiana Tech running back has the kind of eye-popping talent that can make a quick impression. When things go right for Dixon, it is exciting.”

Differing Opinions on Ravens in Preseason Power Rankings

With the start of the regular season less than a month away, it’s common for power rankings to flood the media market. And in the Ravens’ case, opinions continue to vary on their predicted outcome in 2019.

The staff at Scout.com ranked the Ravens at No. 11 in their preseason power rankings, two spots behind the Cleveland Browns. While projected to win nine games, the Ravens are valued as underrated Super Bowl contenders.

“If not for this tougher schedule the Ravens would be the pick to repeat as division winners,” the website wrote. “Their neutral win simulation percentage indicates that the Ravens are expected to have a similar record next season as they did last. The computer gives them a 2.8% chance of winning the Super Bowl making them a good value at 40/1, 2.4%. They are also a good bet to win the conference with a 5.9% chance at 20/1, 4.8%. The sum of all of their 2018 season money line implied probabilities (adjusted for the juice) projects to 9.3 wins. Their 10 actual wins was above expectation. They went 4-4 on the road and were expected to win 3.7. Their 75% home win percentage was as expected (69.6%).

The Ravens are the fourth team since 1978 to have a perfectly balanced schedule of home and away games. Analysts like the NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew believe that gives them one of the best paths to the Lombardi Trophy.

But not all pundits feel the same. The Ravens finished significantly lower (No. 19) in Bleacher Report’s power rankings.

Interestingly enough, BR’s Elizabeth Finny was much higher on the Ravens than her colleagues, ranking them at No. 11 on her list one week prior.

“This ranking is undoubtedly going to raise some eyebrows,” BR wrote. “After all, the Ravens are the defending champions of the AFC North. They have more than a few things working in their favor. They added a proven tailback in free agency in Mark Ingram II and an impact defender in safety Earl Thomas. Lamar Jackson scrambled his way to a 6-1 record as a starter down the stretch, and head coach John Harbaugh indicated that the team plans to unveil an offense that will turn the NFL on its ear. The Ravens are capable (in theory) of contending for a playoff spot in 2019. But they have problems as well … If that new-look offense doesn't feature improvement from Jackson as a thrower, then the Ravens' ceiling will be limited.”

CBS Sports’ Will Brinson predicted a regression along the same lines, listing the Ravens as one of five teams who could take a step back this season. In the AFC North, Brinson is backing the Steelers despite losing big-name offensive weapons in running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

“I love watching Lamar light up defenses with his combination of speed and his underrated arm,” Brinson wrote. “There's reason to think they won't fall apart either: Baltimore was 2-4 in one-score games, so they were a little unlucky, actually. The Ravens' expected win total was 10.8 games, so if anything, they underperformed a bit. John Harbaugh is an excellent coach who gets the most out of his players. Retaining Greg Roman means utilizing a successful offense with Lamar, one with a track record of working with mobile quarterbacks. But what I can't stop thinking about, as the Ravens emphasize just how much they expect to run the ball with Lamar, is the lucky schedule they caught last year … The schedule isn't bad and if Jackson truly takes a step Baltimore could explode on offense. I'm banking on a little regression in that area plus the Steelers and Browns taking a step forward.”

Brinson noted that the Ravens’ run-heavy scheme during the second half of last season timed perfectly with the defenses they faced and that could hold true again this season. Nine of the Ravens’ regular-season opponents ranked 23rd or worst in rushing yards allowed per game in 2018.

“We don’t talk nearly enough about [the Ravens],” NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said. “They’ve got a quarterback who the team is all in on, yet the rest of the country is not. I can’t find a single person around the league who believes that the Ravens’ offense is going to be a success. … They’re the division champions. Are the Ravens going to be legit this year and will Lamar be able to get it done?”

Marlon Humphrey Jumps Three Spots in 2017 Re-Draft

Yesterday’s edition of “Late for Work” touched on Marlon Humphrey’s snub from The Athletic’s All-AFC North team, but The Draft Network’s Joe Marino offered high praise for the third-year cornerback in his 2017 NFL re-draft.

Marino had Humphrey, the No. 16-overall pick by the Ravens that year, up three spots to the Arizona Cardinals at 13.

“Starting 13 of the 30 games he’s played in across his first two NFL seasons, Humphrey has showcased the promise of a lockdown corner every time he’s been on the field,” Marino wrote. “Securing four interceptions and 26 pass breakups over that span, Humphrey is already among the best press coverage corners in the league. Humphrey suffocates routes with his aggressive willingness to crowd receivers in the contact window and I love his physicality. Your top-10 NFL cornerback lists are wrong if it doesn’t include Humphrey.”

With Humphrey off the board, Marino had the Ravens selecting Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay.

Humphrey has earned attention this offseason as one of the NFL’s emerging young talents at cornerback, and Ebony Bird’s Garrett Ferguson predicted he will lead the Ravens’ cornerbacks in interceptions this season with six.

It would be a career-high for Humphrey after he tallied a pair of picks in each of his first two seasons.

“This season will be huge for Humphrey as he is now the official number one corner and will be tasked with defending the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Tyreek Hill, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeAndre Hopkins, and etc., so if there is any time to prove his dominance it’s now,” Ferguson wrote.

Quick Hits

  • With the versatility to play at both fullback and defensive tackle, Zrebiec sees Pat Ricard as a safe bet to make the 53-man roster. “When camp started, I was really on fence about Ricard. He was a healthy scratch for a solid chunk of last season. And I figured, with their roster logjam at some other positions, one way to open up a spot would be not to carry him as the fullback … But Ricard has had a really good camp. He was destroying people out there yesterday … At this point, he seems to be safe.”
  • PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz listed wide receiver Sean Modster as his pick for the undrafted preseason fan favorite of 2019.
  • National Post’s John Kryk was left impressed with Justin Tucker and the Ravens’ special teams unit after a visit to training camp: “Tucker is the greatest kicker of footballs this planet has yet produced. Every friggin’ time: hard, high-sailing, perfectly end-over-end, and almost always well between the yellow uprights … [N]o team spends more, or more quality, time on special teams. Undoubtedly that’s because Ravens head coach John Harbaugh used to be a special-teams coordinator. On the day I visited,[comma] the Ravens worked over and over on kickoff positioning and blocking. For a half-hour straight.”
  • Ed Reed’s Hall of Fame bust earned Hall of Fame honors and Reed talked about it in an interview on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “I knew it was going to look like that, and I was proud of it,” Reed said. “It really showed who I am, for one, but that was me during my career. That was me during football. Anyone who knew me knew I always had hair on my head.”

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