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Ravens’ Roster Analysis

Ravens Final 53-Man News and Notes:

The Turk paid a visit on Saturday to the Ravens training facility in Owings Mills , MD. Here a list of the players that didn’t survive. Keep in mind the Ravens did bring some of these players back today, signing them to the practice squad.

Players Released & Moves Made on Saturday:

Released two vested veterans, CBs Derek Cox and Dominique Franks. Waived QB Keith Wenning, G A.Q. Shipley, LB John Simon, OT Ryan Jensen, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, CB Tramain Jacobs, CB Sammy Seamster, TE Phillip Supernaw, DT A.J. Pataiali’i, OT Parker Graham, DT Jamie Meder, TE Nathan Overbay, OLB D.J. Roberts, C Reggie Stephens, DT Levi Brown, DT Derrick Hopkins. Placed RB Ray Rice (two games) and FS Will Hill (six games) on suspended list. Placed NT Terrence Cody (hip) on the reserve Physically Unable to Perform list, which means he’ll miss the first six games of the season. Rookie WR Jeremy Butler (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve.

Wide Receivers Rewarded for Strong Camp finishes:    ravenswr

One of the most intriguing battles heading into training camp was at the wide receiver position. The team was expected to keep five—no more than six pass catchers.   Off-season acquisition and veteran WR Steve Smith, as well as Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Marlon Brown were considered the locks to make the team.

Deonte Thompson, who has appeared in 13 games during the past two years, seventh round rookie slot receiver Michael Campanaro and Kamar Aiken, who played in just three games with the Bills and Patriots were considered the three players with the best chances to make the team. However, the thought going into camp was only two spots were available for the three players.

Thompson and Campanaro started slow. Thompson was considered a long shot because he was one of five Ravens arrested this past offseason and he couldn’t hang onto anything thrown his way in late July and early August. Plus, many believed Thompson needed to absolutely shine in his third camp with Harbaugh. Meanwhile, Campanaro battled injuries, as Aiken took the early lead as the he lead the team in receiving during the first preseason game and caught seemingly everything thrown his way early in camp.

Then came the Dallas preseason game—Thompson burst back into the competition with great play on special teams. He had three kickoff returns for 188 yards including a108 yard kickoff return TD. Campanaro returned punts (3 for 16 yards) but didn’t produce the results Thompson did. Aiken was quiet, as he was targeted just once.

As the dog days of camp progressed, Thompson and Campanaro began to apply the heat on Aiken. All three entered the all-important third preseason game vs. Washington nearly even on the depth chart. Aiken would fail to impress with only two targets and no receptions while Campanaro caught both passes thrown his way for 24 yards and returned a kickoff 44 yards. Thompson hit pay dirt for a second straight game, as Tyrod Taylor found him for a nice looking 24-yard TD.

The trio entered Thursdays final preseason game in New Orleans knowing that it was likely, in the mind of the coaches, they were even on the depth chart and whomever stood out the most, would likely earn the final two roster spots. The trio did not disappoint and mad an otherwise boring affair worth watching. They combined for 10 catches and 137 yards. Thompson would score the groups only TD, his third in as many games. This one a nice eight yard hand grab pass from Tyrod Taylor in the back of the end zone.

Aiken led the trio in targets (8), receptions (4), and yards (57). Campanaro, who had 55 receiving yards on three catches (18.3 YPC) added to his value by returning three kickoffs and two punts for a total of 98 yards.

The decision as to which two the coaches would keep would be a difficult one. Given the fact that the Ravens ended the season with only five receivers on the roster last year, the likelihood that they would keep seven seemed improbable.

Improbabilities aren’t impossibilities because that’s just what the Ravens did in keeping all three. Thompson, Aiken, and Campanaro all made the team’s final 53-man roster. The move is somewhat of a head scratcher considering Campanaro and Thompson will give way to Jacoby Jones in the return game and won’t be of much value in any other aspect of special teams. The thinking is that if the Ravens find themselves shorthanded, like they did last year or lack depth due to poor play, as they have throughout their history, these guys will be able to step right in and the team won’t have to scramble to sign the Brandon Stokley’s of the world.

Secondary Still a Concern:

One place the Ravens seemed destined to keep more players than normal was in the secondary—especially the cornerback position. However, the Ravens cut both veteran cornerbacks they signed this offseason in Derek Cox and Dominique Franks. This is good news if you were concerned about the health of Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (ribs), and backup Asa Jackson (ankle). All three returned to practice today, so the team must be confident that all three are healthy enough for the regular season opener. The Ravens could re-sign Cox after the season opener when his salary wouldn’t be guaranteed for the entire year. Until then, the Ravens are left with Jackson, who has never played a snap in a regular season game and Chykie Brown as their only backups. Safeties, Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine both showed during the preseason that they can play cornerback but this is still very much a weakness heading into the season.

The Ravens kept 10 defensive backs, including six safeties. Many will help on special teams, as Levine, Jeromy Miles, and Brynden Trawick were among the top five special-teams tacklers from a year ago.  Brooks and Levine showed their versatility when they were forced to slide down and play some corner during the preseason. Will Hill is suspended for the first six games of the season but will occupy a roster spot when he returns.

Surprise-Surprise:

Veteran guard A.Q. Shipley, who started nine games at guard last season, and 2013 fourth-round pick John Simon were also cut by the team on Saturday. Shipley was beaten out by rookie guard John Urschel and Simon fell victim to a numbers game at one of the Ravens’ deepest positions. Simon struggled in space and failed to standout until he played like a beast this past Thursday. Making this a puzzling move is the Ravens kept undrafted rookie inside linebacker Zachary Orr.

The Tradition Continues:

GM Ozzie Newsome has a penchant for finding undrafted rookies who become impact players. In the past, such players as Bart Scott, Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, and Josh Bynes were all undrafted and signed. Two years ago it was Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker and last year, WR Marlon Brown went one to tie Torrey Smith’s rookie record of seven TD receptions.

The hopes of making Newsome look like a genius in 2014 falls on the shoulders of OT James Hurst (North Carolina) and the above mentioned Zachary Orr (North Texas). For this season, the Ravens value Orr on special teams and Hurst seemed to improve nearly every day as camp progressed. He looked good Thursday night outclassing the Saints second and third stringers and he beat out Ryan Jensen, and AQ Shipley whom many thought would make the team.

Two QB’s:

Joe Flacco has never missed a start in his six year NFL career (KNOCK ON WOOD). Because of that and the above average play of backup Tyrod Taylor, the Ravens will operate with two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster once again as Keith Wenning, a sixth-round pick out of Ball State, was released. The Ravens haven’t kept three quarterbacks since 2009.

Practice Squad:       coachharbaugh

Many of yesterday’s surprise cuts are back with the team after the Ravens signed nine players to the practice on Sunday afternoon. Below is the list of players.

  • CB Tramain Jacobs
  • OL Ryan Jensen
  • DT Jamie Meder
  • CB Deji Olatoye
  • DT A.J. Pataiali’i
  • OLB John Simon
  • TE Phillip Supernaw
  • RB Fitzgerald Toussaint
  • QB Keith Wenning

All of the players were required to pass through waivers during the past 24 hours and it is a surprise to see that some of them did not get picked up. One of those players, LB John Simon, was a 2013 fourth-round pick. The Ohio State product played his best game in New Orleans with three tackles and one sack, but he fell victim to the team’s deepest position. Simon played in just seven games and made four tackles last year. Let’s hope Simon improves and is brought back to the 53 man roster instead of getting signed off the practice squad. His situation would bring back memories of another defensive player with talent that was a late bloomer. That player announced his retirement from football on Facebook yesterday and tortured the Ravens for several seasons a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers but spent time in Baltimore before becoming a heavily fined NFL superstar.

James Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year – joined the Ravens in 2004, only to be cut after a year-long tryout. According to Harrison, the Ravens may have had their reasons. “When I got released the first few times, it was maturity,” Harrison said at the time. “I didn’t take coaching too well; I didn’t know what I was doing. I would actually stop on a play in practice. I think actually sitting down and putting the time in to be a true professional and learn the defense, learn what you’re doing. It’s not going to just come to you.”

Harrison was cut three times by the Steelers before the Ravens signed him in early 2004.   Baltimore then sent him to NFL Europe – he played with the Rhein Fire – and was released two weeks after he came back to the United States. The Steelers eventually picked Harrison back up, and he’s played like gangbusters since then.

QB Keith Wenning was also signed to the practice squad. After a slow start in camp, Wenning showed improvement throughout the rest of camp and the sixth-round pick out of Ball State completed 8-of-13 passes for 117 yards in the team’s final preseason game.

Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen was signed to the practice squad as well. Many thought Jensen had a chance to beat out RT Rick Wagner, or at least make it interesting before camp started. However, according to Jensen, he suffered from severe sleep apnea during camp and fell down the depth chart leading to him being cut.

Cornerback Tramain Jacobs is a player that Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said has “great upside”, as does fellow undrafted cornerback Deji Olatoye, whom the Ravens also signed to the practice squad.

Undrafted running back Fitzgerald Toussaint showed he deserved a shot to hone his skills in an NFL facility. Toussaint carried 17 times for 103-yards in New Orleans and with the RAY Rice suspension looming, it may be possible that Toussaint could see time if the Ravens rushing attack falls stagnant. The Ravens also signed a pair of undrafted defensive linemen on the practice squad after keeping just five linemen on the active roster. Former Texan TE Phillip Supernaw was also kept. He is well liked by OC Gary Kubiak and was a popular target in training camp.

Practice squad players can still be claimed by another team, but that team would have to put them on their active roster immediately. Last year the Browns claimed Bobby Rainey and he was placed on their active roster to start the season.

Not the Final Roster?

According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com, “This probably won’t be the 53-man roster that the Ravens take into the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Players like offensive tackle James Hurst and Zachary Orr, two undrafted rookies, could eventually be headed for the practice squad. The Ravens need to find another defensive lineman (they’re carrying just five) as well as upgrade at offensive line and cornerback. Someone like veteran guard-center Adam Snyder, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers, would be a good fit for the Ravens. Cornerbacks who are now available include Kelvin Hayden (Bears), Champ Bailey (Saints), and Johnny Patrick (Jets)

There is also still the question as to why the Ravens restructured the five-year, $50 million contract of Lardarius Webb. The move will reduce his hit against the salary cap this year. The Ravens converted $4 million of Webb’s $7.5 million base salary into a signing bonus, reducing his salary-cap figure by $3 million for this year, down to $7.504 million. His new base salary for this year is $3 million.

The transaction puts the Ravens $6.95 million under the NFL salary-cap limit. This is generally not something the Ravens like to do and Ozzie Newsome has in fact said its usually a “last resort”—but for what in tis case?

Newsome recently said, “The only time we consider restructuring guys’ deals is [if] there is a player that comes available that we think has great value and is worth us restructuring a deal to get it done. But it has to be a player that we think has a pretty good chance of playing out his contract, because that’s when you get in trouble. If you restructure a deal, then all the sudden that player’s abilities fall off the cliff and you have to let him go, then you have to eat all that acceleration right away.”

The reason is because of what it does to future years in terms of inflating the contract. However, in Webb’s case, the future years of the deal are unaffected in terms of base salaries, but his salary-cap figures are $1 million higher per year.

The last time this occurred it is believed was in 2012 when they reworked the deal for guard Marshal Yanda. It will be interesting to see what happens between now and the season opener next Sunday at home vs. Cincinnati.

 

 



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