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Ravens' offensive line shaping up nicely

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Ravens' offensive line shaping up nicely

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens can only hope the performance they received from their offensive line last weekend is an indication of what lies ahead for a unit that relies on an unexpected mixture of experience and youth.

Baltimore amassed a season-high 533 yards Sunday in a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Joe Flacco had enough time in the pocket to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns, the Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs and Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce each topped 100 yards rushing.

Flacco, Rice and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin are the big names on Baltimore's offense, but success in the playoffs could depend on what happens up front.

``The offensive line continues to improve,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``It's a young group, so that's something that we really expect to have happen.''

Rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele and second-year left guard Jah Reid have played well enough to force longtime NFL veterans Bryant McKinnie and Bobbie Williams to the sideline. Coming into the season, McKinnie and Williams had a combined 277 starts and compared to zero for Osemele and Reid.

So perhaps the line could be forgiven for its inconsistent performance in the weeks leading up to Sunday's masterpiece - a dominating performance that provided the Ravens with their second straight AFC North title.

``It's just a matter of having confidence in our guys,'' guard Marshal Yanda said. ``There's no magical formula. We didn't reinvent the wheel. It's just football.''

The offensive line yielded 34 sacks in the first 14 games before holding New York without one Sunday. Flacco, who had six turnovers in the previous three games, was flawless against the Giants.

``Anytime you pass protect the way that we did against a team that can rush the passer like the New York Giants, that's a big plus,'' Harbaugh said. ``The run blocking was good. We rushed for a lot of yards, and it's because those guys were very physical up front.''

Baltimore (10-5) hopes to ride the momentum into Sunday's regular-season finale against Cincinnati (9-6) before heading into the playoffs.

Yanda, Reid, Osemele, 36-year-old center Matt Birk and fourth-year left tackle Michael Oher make up an offensive front that has endured a bit of shuffling since September.

Ramon Harewood began the season at left guard after spending his first two NFL seasons in injured reserve. Harewood took a seat on the bench after five weeks and was replaced by Williams, who stayed there until Reid made his first NFL start on Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh.

When Yanda missed the Dec. 16 game against Denver, Williams took his place.

Now, finally, the unit appears set. Plus, Harbaugh has the luxury of summoning rookie center Gino Gradkowski or two solid veterans in case of emergency.

``We probably have more depth in the offensive line than we have had in quite a while,'' the coach said. ``We have some veterans that can step in and play. Bobbie has done a real nice job when he's been in there. And of course, Bryant McKinnie hasn't had a chance, because the tackles have been so healthy, but Bryant's a guy that is going to be very valuable for us here down the stretch if something happens. That's definitely a blessing for us.''

Rice is exceptional once he gets past the line of scrimmage, and while fullback Vonta Leach has proven to be an exceptional escort through the hole, nothing happens if the line can't create a void in the defense.

``Those guys, they work very hard. They are the hardest working group in the building,'' Rice said. ``They meet, they work, they just work and work. One thing I like about our line is that we're athletic, and we've got guys that can do multiple things. You don't see tackles moving as fast as our tackles. Then we've got our inside guys who are big and physical guys, along with the leadership of Matt Birk. Those guys really got the job done.''

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5 players Ravens fans should keep an eye on at the NFL Combine

5 players Ravens fans should keep an eye on at the NFL Combine

For a team that finished 14-2 in 2019, the Ravens have quite a few holes to patch up across the roster. 

The team needs an edge rusher — a situation that could be exacerbated by a potential departure of Matthew Judon — and help at inside linebacker, interior offensive line and wide receiver.

Baltimore isn’t flush with cap space, especially if Judon is retained by either a contract extension or franchise tag. Meaning, they’ll have to capitalize on their draft picks, of which they have six — with compensatory picks still to be announced. 

The combine schedule will have tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers workout on Thursday, special teamers, offensive line and running backs on Friday, defensive line and linebackers on Saturday and defensive backs on Sunday. 

Here are a few players who the Ravens could take a look at near the top of the draft:

Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

This is the linebacker that the Ravens might have to make a move to acquire. 

Patrick Queen, an off-ball linebacker from LSU, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds. He made 85 total tackles in his junior season as a Tiger and had one interception, too. 

“Patrick Queen to me would be a home run pick from LSU if somehow he was there,” NFL Network analyst Jeremiah said in a conference call last week. “I think he should be gone by then. He's so athletic and explosive.”

Should Queen be on the board, the Ravens could have themselves a three-down linebacker capable of dropping into coverage or finding a ball-carrier behind the line of scrimmage. 

If Queen is on the board when the Ravens pick, even if there’s a hole at edge rusher, there will be a difficult decision to make for the Ravens.

Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Perhaps the most popular selection in early mock drafts, Kenneth Murray could deliver the most realistic chance the Ravens have at getting an impact off-ball linebacker in the first round. 

Murray registered 102 tackles in his junior year, down from his 155 tackles he posted as a sophomore. He’s an excellent open-field tackler, one that can fill a hole in the Ravens front seven on day one. 

The former Oklahoma Sooner would fill a spot that linebacker C.J. Mosely left vacant after he went to the Jets in the spring of 2019. 

Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin

Here, the Ravens could be almost forced to take an edge player. Enter Zack Baun.

Baun, an edge rusher at Wisconsin, was a disruptive force on the outside for the Badgers in perhaps college football’s toughest conference. 

In his final year in Madison, he made 76 total tackles and had 12.5 sacks — second in the Big 10 behind only Chase Young.

“Zack Baun from Wisconsin can give you versatility as somebody who can rush...then cover,” Jeremiah said. “When you talk about pure edge guys, you know they've (the Ravens) tended to lean more towards the physical rushers.”

The ceiling for Baun isn’t what Young’s ceiling is, but Baun — while a bit light at just 238 pounds — has the makings of a productive player at the NFL level.

Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado

Now, it’s time for some fun.

The Ravens had the NFL’s best and most explosive offense in 2019, led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown and Mark Ingram. While it might not make sense, on paper, to overlook other more prominent needs on the roster, another top wideout for Jackson is certainly on the needs list.

“Shenault would be a heck of a lot of fun,” Jeremiah continued. “I put down this list of guys in this draft, and I just wrote "Finding (49ers wide receiver) Deebo (Samuel)." 

Shenault, listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, compares physically to Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. At Colorado, Shenault caught 56 balls and totaled 764 yards for four touchdowns in 2019. A year prior, he eclipsed 1,000 yards through the air and had 86 catches and six touchdowns.

The way the Buffaloes used him, though, could play favorably to what the Ravens would like to do in the backfield. And with his big frame, he’s able to be versatile in any offense.

“I would go back, get more speed and just continue to add more speed like the Chiefs have done,” Jeremiah said. “I would double down. And I think Shenault would be a fun toy for them, somebody that could play in the slot. You can use the fly sweep stuff with him. You could put him in the backfield with Lamar hand him the ball. He's done that a bunch at Colorado, for a creative offense, there's none more creative than Greg Roman.”

Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

This one might seem like it’s out of left field, but Jalen Reagor is a wide receiver to watch at the combine. 

A speed demon at TCU, Reagor totaled just 611 yards in his final year of college, down from the 1,061 yards he posted a year prior. In that way, Shenault and Reagor are similar players. 

“So finding somebody with maybe some physicality to go along with their speed to complement Hollywood Brown in this offense, it would be fun to watch,” Jeremiah said, speaking generally of the Ravens’ offense.

Reagor, who called himself a mix of Tyreek Hill and Deebo Samuel at the combine this week, could run the fastest 40-yard dash in Indianapolis — even faster than former Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs. And Reagor, who weighed in at 206 pounds, was used in a way that could benefit the Ravens as well. 

TCU used him in a variety of ways: as a receiver, in the backfield and as a returner. Reagor could fill multiple roles, so don’t be surprised if the Ravens target the athletic wideout — even if it’s not in the first round of such a deep wide receiver class.

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Robert Griffin III calls for players to 'take a stand' and vote against CBA proposal

Robert Griffin III calls for players to 'take a stand' and vote against CBA proposal

The NFL Players Association voted Tuesday to move forward with the proposal for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and send it to the players for them to decide by holding a full vote of the entire body of active players.

A 17-game schedule, increased playoff field, greater revenue share for players, shorter preseason and additional roster spots are among the changes that would be instituted if the proposal is approved. While many of those changes would serve to benefit the players, some have taken to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the proposal.

Among those players is Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, who called on his colleagues to unite against the proposal.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who’s a vice president on the NFLPA’s executive committee, has actively spoken against the idea of expanding the season to 17 games, believing that it’s part of the league’s greater initiative to eventually push the season to 18 games.

Meanwhile, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Quandre Diggs doesn’t think the increased revenue share is enough.

Several quarterbacks, including Seahawks signal caller Russell Wilson and the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, have also joined the fight against the proposal in its current form.

Rodgers said his decision to vote no is based on his conversations "with the men in my locker room that I'm tasked to represent."

No timetable has been given for when the vote will be held.

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