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Ravens defense copes with rash of injuries

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Ravens defense copes with rash of injuries

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The once-esteemed defense of the Baltimore Ravens is almost unrecognizable these days.

Many of the unit's most established players - including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb - have sustained serious injuries. Suggs missed first six games of the season on the sideline with a torn right Achillies tendon, returned for a half-dozen games and then sat out last week with a torn right biceps. Lewis has been sidelined since Oct. 14 with a torn right triceps, and Webb is out for the year with a torn ACL.

As a result, the Baltimore defense has been uncharacteristically porous this season, especially in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens are ranked 24th in total defense, which means their nine-year run of top-10 finishes is almost certainly over. Baltimore finished in the top 5 in run defense over the previous six years, but now its ranked 25th among 32 teams.

Although head coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Monday, the Ravens' current two-game losing streak could be attributed heavily to the defense. Two weeks ago, third-string quarterback Charlie Batch moved Pittsburgh the length of the field in the waning seconds to set up a game-winning field goal. Last Sunday, the Redskins got the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion with 29 seconds left in a 31-28 win.

``We've just got to finish,'' Harbaugh said.

Injuries are mostly to blame. Washington rookie Kirk Cousins victimized reserve cornerback Chris Johnson on the last-minute touchdown pass, and third-string linebacker Josh Bynes was on the field for the conversion play because Suggs, Lewis, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe were unavailable.

Lewis and Suggs have not yet been on the field at the same time on game day, and it's quite possible the Ravens (9-4) will again be without both Pro Bowl stars when they host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (10-3) on Sunday.

``Every team deals with injuries, and just it's a next-man-up mentality,'' Manning said. ``Ray Lewis is a guy we all know is hard to replace, but Baltimore always has young talent and guys ready to step in. They're aggressive on defense no matter who's in there.''

Perhaps, but the Ravens are clearly better with Suggs and Lewis in the lineup. Both practiced Wednesday, but Harbaugh said a decision on their status for Sunday would be made later in the week.

Harbaugh ruled out McClain, who has neck and back injuries. The injuries on defense run so deep that the Ravens activated cornerback Omar Brown from the practice squad on Wednesday to place Asa Jackson, who was suspended four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

Asked if he's ever been a part of a defense that had so many injuries, safety Ed Reed shook his head before the question was completed.

``This is by far one of those years,'' Reed said. ``I think when coach first got here, second year, we had a lot of injuries. But not like this.''

In addition to Suggs, Lewis, McClain, Ellerbe, Webb and McClain, the Ravens have also been forced to operate at times without tackle Haloti Ngata, cornerback Jimmy Smith and end Pernell McPhee.

``It's been tough,'' Harbaugh said. ``It's been probably as many injuries as we've ever had on defense here during the last five years. We've got confidence in whoever we put out there. We are starting to get a little healthier, so it will be good to get some of those guys back.''

Ellerbe, who has missed two straight games with a sprained ankle, hopes to be available Sunday. This much he does know: Watching from the sideline is no fun.

``That's a terrible feeling, to see your guys out there fighting and trying to win the game and you can't help them,'' Ellerbe said, no doubt echoing the sentiment of many of his injured teammates. ``You know you're an asset to the team but you can't go out there and help. It's just something that's hard to deal with.''

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn’t been shy on his feelings about the NFL’s coronavirus protocols. He said in June, and repeated Friday, they’re impossible to follow to a T. 

But he’s also very confident in the ability of NFL teams to create a safe and productive environment during a global pandemic. 

Harbaugh said that compared to the rest of the country, most players are safer at facilities with their teams than at their homes.

“I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now, an NBA basketball bubble,” Harbaugh said. “We’re pretty darn safe. If you want to rank them, we’re all in the top five across the country. We’re right up there with anybody. We get tested every day and we are wearing masks everywhere.”

The Ravens, by all accounts, have done well making sure their facility in Owings Mills is not only following protocols for players and coaches, but also making sure it’s as easy a transition as possible. 

Rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said last week that players are constantly being reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands and keep distance from one another.

“All you can do is the best you can do and mitigate it to a great extent,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far, there are no guarantees going forward. We’ve got to stay vigilant like we’ve done.”

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The Ravens have had just two players opt out of the upcoming season — wide receiver/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas and tackle Andre Smith — but it was certainly a conversation for a lot of players in the locker room. 

Most notably, defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

“I definitely considered (opting out). You have to,” Campbell said. “You can’t play football with this going on and not think about the risk you’re going to put on yourself and your family. Going through that process, I realized talking to the doctors and just setting up the protocols and other things we have to do to keep each other safe, I felt like the risks were mitigated the best we can.”

Campbell, who was acquired from the Jaguars in a trade in March, is set to turn 34-years-old on Sept. 1 and has asthma. 

The five-time Pro Bowl selection would have been one of the most notable names in the league to voluntarily opt out of the 2020 season. But with the protocols in place, he felt safer about his participation. 

One topic of discussion for the Ravens and their protocols, too, has been the option of quarantining a specific group of players to prevent a spread. 

Likely, those players would be at positions of extreme value — like quarterback — or players where backups aren’t readily available — like kicker. It just so happens that the Ravens have two of the league’s best players at those positions in Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. 

But as Harbaugh said, each move comes with a consequence, and that includes the “safer” option of quarantining the entire league.

“For instance, if you were going to quarantine the NFL for six months, yeah, if you were a doctor, you’d say, ‘Yeah, we want the best chance to keep everyone safe and healthy,’” Harbaugh said. “That would be great, but I kind of want to see my wife at some point in time in the next six months, and she doesn’t have coronavirus. So you’ve got to live with a certain amount of risk in order to live your life. We don’t want to forfeit all these guys' lives and they’re not willing to do it.”

Which means, for now, the players at the facility have assumed a level of risk for the upcoming season.

With the Ravens’ protocols in place, however, it’s all about minimizing those risks as much as possible.

“I put a lot of thought into it on my own, too, with my own underlying issues,” Campbell said. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to follow the rules.”

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Marquise Brown is ready to make big second-year leap for Ravens after bulking up 20 pounds

Marquise Brown is ready to make big second-year leap for Ravens after bulking up 20 pounds

Marquise Brown was hardly himself in his rookie season.

Not only did he have a Lisfranc injury in his foot that hampered his health all season long, but he also played portions of the year at less than 160 pounds. 

On the surface, his numbers didn’t take a hit. He was second on the team in targets (71), receptions (46), yards (584) and touchdowns (seven), but he had more to offer than what he showed in 14 games last season. 

This offseason, he added 20 pounds of muscle and, as he said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters, is up to 180 pounds. His foot is feeling better. And Marquise Brown is himself once again.

“I feel I got bright days ahead,” Brown said. “I feel 100 times better than I did last year. So, all I got to do now is focus on the plays, focus on the stuff that I’m supposed to focus on, instead of focusing on my feet and trying to stay healthy.”

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Brown’s added weight was the product of a mindset he had about trying to allow himself to undergo the rigors of an NFL season easier than he had a year ago. 

Whenever Brown would catch a pass, he would scurry out of bounds or dive forward to could avoid a hit. While that was certainly a product of the weight he played at and his desire to protect himself, it also had to do with his injured foot, too. 

He wasn’t able to run as fast as he did at Oklahoma, and he still isn’t quite at that speed, either. 

“Sometimes, I would try to make a cut that my foot wasn’t able to make, and I would go down,” Brown said. “Or sometimes, I just know that I’m not going to be able to make that move, so I’ll go down. It was more about getting the yards that I could get, get down, get ready for a next play. It was better for me to be in the game than to be out the game.”

Brown feels better now, and not only that, his teammates have taken notice, too.

“I could tell he put on a lot of weight,” Willie Snead said. “He’s put on a good amount of weight, and you can tell he’s solid now. I know the first thing he said coming into the building is, ‘I’m trying to block somebody. I’m trying to set the tone in the run game, man.’ I could just tell by his build that he took that part seriously.”

The Ravens sent him a GPS tracker while he trained in the offseason, so that while he added the weight, he didn’t lose any of his patented speed. Brown said he’s been able to keep his speed, despite the increased weight now on his 5-foot-9 frame. 

As the team’s top wide receiver, Brown will have an increased workload in his second season not only due to his progression with quarterback Lamar Jackson, but also the Ravens’ desire to pass the football more than they did a year ago.

It's for that reason the Ravens will put a lot more weight on his shoulders this year, as expectations for the organization are sky-high entering the upcoming season.

In that regard, it’s probably a good thing Brown will be a bit bigger in 2020.

“What people fail to realize, when I was at ‘OU’, I was 173-170, so I honestly just gained about 10 pounds,” Brown said. “I actually lost weight last year. To me, I feel back to normal, sort of to say. I feel like myself.”

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