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Talib, Pats secondary seek consistency, stability

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Talib, Pats secondary seek consistency, stability

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots' pass defense has been very consistent.

It's one of the worst in the NFL for the third straight year.

But now the secondary is striving to develop a different kind of consistency - a better kind. And, with the shuffling of starters apparently at its conclusion, it appears that the Patriots are headed that way.

``The more you play, the more you mesh,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said Tuesday. ``The more time you get together, it definitely helps.''

Talib is the newest, and possibly final, piece of a puzzle that finally seems to be fitting well after 10 games in which New England has allowed the third most yards passing in the NFL. That's an improvement over last season, when the Patriots gave up the second most. And in 2010, they permitted the third most.

Not that big a deal, safety Steve Gregory said.

It didn't keep the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl last season, losing 21-17 to the New York Giants on a last-minute touchdown. And it hasn't stopped them this season from leading the AFC East by three games with a 7-3 record heading into Thursday night's visit to the New York Jets.

``Figures lie,'' Gregory said after the Patriots allowed 329 yards passing but routed the Indianapolis Colts 59-24 on Sunday.

``We don't pay attention to too many stats. We just focus in on playing good, hard-nosed football and winning football games. At the end of the day, when that clock strikes zero, if we're on the winning edge, we're happy.''

Against the Colts, they capitalized on two overthrown passes by Andrew Luck and returned both for touchdowns - 87 yards by rookie Alonzo Dennard and 59 yards by Talib.

``You talk about going out and trying to stop an offense and getting turnovers and all those good things,'' Devin McCourty said, ``but when you score points, that really lifts your team up.''

For the first four games, McCourty and Kyle Arrington started at cornerback with Gregory and Patrick Chung at safety. Rookie second-round pick Tavon Wilson started for the injured Gregory the next two games. Then, with Chung sidelined for the seventh game, McCourty moved to safety and Dennard started at cornerback.

Gregory returned for the ninth game when the Patriots had their fourth different starting secondary of the season. Then coach Bill Belichick acquired Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he made his Patriots debut last Sunday after completing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

``As if they need another great player,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ``With Belichick, he does a lot of different things on defense to take advantage of players' talents. It's going to be really interesting to see what he does with Talib because, if his first game is any indication, that's not bad. You know, get an interception for a touchdown. I really thought (Belichick) should have waited until after we played to play this young man, though.''

Talib knows he made mistakes. He gave up two touchdown receptions by T.Y. Hilton, in fact.

On the second, ``I had my eyes in the wrong spot, eyes exactly where they shouldn't be,'' he said, ``on the quarterback. So I watched him throw a touchdown on me.''

But after sitting out more than a month with the suspension and trying to adjust to a new team, he expects to improve as he gets used to Belichick's system.

``Aqib did some good things in the game. There are other things that he'll work on,'' Belichick said. ``I think as our group plays together this week and the next game and so forth, hopefully our overall execution as a (defensive) unit can improve. Obviously, we haven't had a chance to do that with him other than a couple days last week.''

Gregory expects the secondary to get better as Talib gets more experience in it.

``It was good to get out there with him, get the communication things going on with him, understand how he plays in a game atmosphere,'' Gregory said. ``Practice is one thing, but when you get out there in live action you kind of get a feel for each other. So that was a great experience for us.''

The Patriots have allowed 47 completions of more than 20 yards this season, nearly five a game. Seventeen came in their three losses And they lost to Baltimore 31-30 on Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal on the last play after a 27-yard pass interference call against McCourty gave the Ravens new life.

But two weeks ago, McCourty made the big play in the final minute. He intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass in the end zone with 23 seconds left when receiver T.J. Graham ran to the wrong spot, allowing the Patriots to hang on for a 37-31 win over Buffalo.

``If the offense doesn't score,'' McCourty said, ``and the (opponent) comes back out and they're trying to punch another one in, that's the time when someone really has to step up.''

A week later, Talib did that with his interception for a touchdown. That gave the Patriots the lead for good, 21-14, and they outscored the Colts 38-10 the rest of the way.

It was the start of something big on defense.

In that game and, perhaps, for the rest of the season.

``There's a lot of, hopefully, room for growth and more consistency and better execution on all levels,'' Belichick said. ``When you add a new player in there, hopefully that will get better.''

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Baltimore Ravens 2018 Training Camp preview

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Baltimore Ravens 2018 Training Camp preview

The Ravens’ 2018 season is one of the most anticipated seasons in the last decade. 

From the coaching staff to the quarterback, the future of the franchise will be determined over 16 weeks. The work, however, beings now. 

The Ravens’ first training camp practice kicks off Thursday and there is a lot to keep a close eye on. Let's take a look at the many talking points of the 2018 preseason.

The Great Quarterback Debate:

Unless you’ve been in hiding since the NFL Draft, you know what all the hoopla is about. Joe Flacco remains the Ravens’ starter, but the competition at QB1 just got a little more interesting. The addition of Lamar Jackson has hopefully ignited a fire under Flacco and Jackson will get a year to learn under the 11-year veteran. If the season starts to go south early on, Jackson could come in as their starter and begin his role as the team’s next franchise quarterback. 

A lot could happen at the quarterback position over the next year, but one thing that is certain is all eyes will be on Lamar Jackson when he hits the field at training camp. You can't deny your intrigue. The Heisman winner had success both in the air and on the ground over his three years at Louisville, racking up record-breaking numbers. How the Ravens utilize Jackson will be interesting. Coach Harbaugh has already stated he will be active on game days and that they're experimenting with having Jackson and Flacco on the field at the same time. 

Oh, and then there's Robert Griffin III. We think you might know who he is.

The Ravens signed him to a one-year deal back at the beginning of April, but now with the addition of Lamar Jackson, another big training camp question arises. Do the Ravens keep a third QB on their active roster or do they send him on his way? RGIII has mentioned he's looking forward to mentoring the fellow Heisman Trophy winner in his first year in the league, but how much of that he'll get to do remains unseen.

A New Core Of Offensive Weapons: 

Flacco's declining numbers cannot be placed entirely on his shoulders. His options at wide receiver and tight end have been limited, but Ozzie Newsome – in his last year as general manager – made sure that would no longer be an issue.

Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John 'Smokey' Brown became Ravens in free agency and Breshad Perriman will fight for his final chance with the team after they declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. There is also 2018 draft picks Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley and undrafted free agents Jaelon Acklin and Andrew Levrone. Veteran Chris Moore and Quincy Adeboyejo will also be competing. Flacco mentioned during OTAs that he would be rounding up his receivers outside of practice to build chemistry. Come Thursday, we will see if the sparks have begun to fly.

The tight end depth chart will be looking very different for the Ravens as well this season. There was, of course, the additions of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews – a pair of Top 100 picks – in the draft and undrafted free agent Nick Keizer. Veterans Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are returning, but who will be their starter Week 1 will be interesting to watch. Boyle was on the field for 66 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps in 2017, but injuries have hindered both Boyle and Williams. Williams missed 12 games in 2016 with a knee tear and five games in 2017 with an ankle sprain. Where he sits on the depth chart will rely heavily on how healthy he remains during an extended training camp. 

Critical Year for the Coaching Staff:

The 2018 season is the most critical one of John Harbaugh's 10-year tenure. As you've read many times this offseason, the Ravens haven't seen the postseason since 2015. And if that trend continues into the 2018 season, big changes to the offensive playcallers should be imminent. 

At his annual State of the Ravens press conference in February, owner Steve Bisciotti was questioned as to why no coaching changes – from head coach to offensive coordinator – were made after the Ravens' offense clearly had trouble getting things going all season long.

"I’m not going to give a ‘playoff or bust’ edict to you all, or to my coach," Bisciotti said.

"He’s under as much pressure, probably, than he’s ever been in his life, and I expect him to keep his chin up and take his positivity and his talents and make the most of this season. I may as well replace him now if I’m going to tell him, ‘Make the playoffs or you’re out of town next year.’ That’s just not the way to run a business.”

That mindset is understandable. Bisciotti noted Flacco has been through four offensive coordinators in five years and was comfortable with OC Marty Mornhinweg. Harbaugh's contract was extended through 2019, but if the season doesn't pan out as expected, the offensive could have a very different look in 2019. 

A Fast and Furious Defense:

Linebackers coach, Don 'Wink' Martindale was promoted to defensive coordinator after Dean Pees' departure. Harbaugh hired within the organization to keep the defensive vision cohesive, but Martindale is bringing something different to the table. 

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," safety Eric Weddle said in a recent interview. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

It appears this year's defense will rely heavily on the instincts of its star players like Pro Bowlers Weddle, Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. The defense has never had an issue being dominate, but you may be seeing a more creative defense come game days with players given the freedom to make decisions in real time. How well it works will be exciting to see. 

Other Notes: 

The Ravens placed six players, G Marshal Yanda, TE Vince Mayle, DE Brent Urban, CB Jaylen Hill, LB Bam Bradley and WR Quincy Adeboyejo on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to begin training camp. Yanda missed 14 games last season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Placing him on the PUP list to begin training camp is most likely out of precaution. He did not participate in any offseason workouts. 

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Lamar Jackson, Ravens rookies report to training camp

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USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson, Ravens rookies report to training camp

Football is back in session for the Ravens.

Their rookies are set to report to the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills, Md Wednesday. Veterans report next Wednesday, the 18th.

The team is reporting to training camp a bit earlier than most NFL teams. Due to Ray Lewis being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Aug. 4 in Canton, Oh, the Ravens will face the Chicago Bears in the annual Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 2. Teams participating are eligible to begin training camp earlier.

This rookie class is already generating national attention. While the Ravens stand by Joe Flacco as their QB1, first-round pick Lamar Jackson could cause a shakeup at some point during the season. And when it comes to much-needed offensive help, tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews could begin to provide relief. 

Third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. begins his journey with the Ravens in a more sentimental fashion. His father, Orlando "Zeus" Brown, also played tackle for the Ravens from 1996-98 and then again from 2003-05. Brown passed away in 2011. 

Stay with NBC Sports Washington throughout the next several weeks as we keep a close eye on the Ravens' preseason. 

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