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Under the radar: Five defensive players to watch on the Ravens as training camp progresses

Under the radar: Five defensive players to watch on the Ravens as training camp progresses

Heading into Ravens training camp, you already knew the big-name players and virtual locks of the roster. While their progress is still something to monitor, a little over a week of practice has given some lesser-known performers a chance to show their stuff.

As joint practices and preseason games begin, a mix of young players and veterans are competing for the final spots on the 53-man as the roster crunch begins. Additionally, other players are spending the weeks trying to make their impact felt on the field. Here are some defensive guys to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. 

Anthony Averett (CB)

The Ravens secondary is loaded. Like, really, really loaded. The surplus of veteran skilled defenders makes it potentially one of the most dominant heading into the season. But because there are so many options, so many that even the veterans are competing for playing time, it is slim pickings for the rest of the group.

Even with that, the second-year Averett is still someone to keep an eye on. He's one of the few young cornerbacks on the roster that has seen some regular-season time (11 games). Though limited, it gives him an advantage in the familiarity and experience departments. As he continues to get more reps and become more comfortable in the system, the potential should turn into production.

It's hard to see Averett being a starter in the secondary, but he could be a good depth piece or someone who gets his name called barring an injury.

Tyus Bowser (OLB)

First off, being a football player with the name Bowser is a big plus. The puns are endless, and at least on paper, you seem like someone who is going to hit hard and tackle aggressively.

Okay, now back to the actual analysis. Bowser is someone that has caught the attention of coaches during the initial days of camp, and that's important for not only the Ravens, but for himself as well. A 2017 draft pick, the staff had hopes that after getting his feet wet in the NFL, Bowser would make the leap to someone who could consistently contribute to the defense. That hasn't exactly been the case yet and as he enters year three the leash is getting shorter.

"You have to do it right now," defensive line coach Joe Cullen said of Bowser's progression. "The clock has ticked."

Bowser did record a pick-six during the joint practice with the Jaguars on Monday, but he'll need to continue to ride that momentum into some more solid play. The Ravens want to believe in him, but he's got to show it now.

Pernell McPhee (OLB)

McPhee's situation differs from the first two. He's going to make the roster and he's going to get playing time. Yet, he's still a name to pay more attention to as he's sort of gotten lost in the shuffle in recent years. After a subpar 2018 season with the Redskins, he's back with the team he began his career with and seems to be rejuvenated.

Don Martindale said that McPhee looks as good as he did during his first tenure in Baltimore where he helped the 2012 team to a Super Bowl. Cullen backed up that statement by praising McPhee and stating that he'll be a big part of the edge pass rush along with Matt Judon. Additionally, the 30-year old brings a veteran voice to a defense that just lost a few of those.

Looking for a good resurgence story? Tune in to Pernell McPhee.

Zach Sieler (DT)

The interior pass rush has some big playmakers in Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, but there are still questions as to just how deep and impactful that unit will be. Zach Sieler may be helping solve some of those issues.

A steady force throughout camp so far, Cullen believes he'll not only make an impact in subpackages, but he'll continue to challenge the starters and raise everybody's performance. The more service and depth the Ravens can along the line, the better the defense will be.

Gerald Willis (DT)

Sticking with the defensive line, Willis may be a prime candidate for a player who goes undrafted before working his way on to a team and becoming a solid player. No one took a waiver on him in the draft, but that sort of looks like a mistake now. 

A big guy (300 pounds), Willis is physical yet nimble upfront. Competition is heavy at the position, but he's got a big chip on his shoulder to help with motivation.

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Mark Andrews both excited, and sad, about Hayden Hurst’s trade to Atlanta

Mark Andrews both excited, and sad, about Hayden Hurst’s trade to Atlanta

Mark Andrews is in a unique situation with his friend Hayden Hurst. 

He’s happy that Hurst will finally get his chance to be a No. 1 tight end in Atlanta and earn the targets he wasn’t able to receive in Baltimore.

There also won’t be the same relationship between Andrews and Hurst, and fellow tight end Nick Boyle, anymore. 

The three-headed monster was inseparable in the locker room, incredibly productive on the field and one of the brightest spots for the NFL’s best regular season team in 2019. Now, one-third of the group is gone. 

“I think, first of all, it was kind of a shock for me,” Andrews said Tuesday during a conference call. “And selfishly, Hayden being one of my best friends and being someone that I talk to every day and I'm super close with, I'm sad. I'm sad that I won't be able to have him next year, I won't be able to talk to him next year as much, but I'm also excited for him. I'm excited for him to get more of an opportunity with Atlanta.”

Hurst was shipped to Atlanta in mid-March to give the Ravens some much-needed draft capital. It also gave Hurst, a first-round pick in 2018, a chance to be a true No. 1 tight end threat.

The trade gave the Ravens the 55th overall pick in the NFL Draft later this month, as well as a fifth-round pick in exchange for Hurst and a fourth-round pick.

Last season, Hurst posted 349 yards receiving on 30 receptions with two touchdowns. Those numbers ranked fifth on the team in receptions and third in yards.

With Hurst out of the fold, Andrews, Marquise Brown and perhaps a few new offensive additions in the draft will have to pick up the load Hurst left behind.

“He's a great player,” Andrews said. “I love him to death, but it's exciting for him as well. But, firstly, I'm sad. I know Nick is sad. The three-headed monster kind of got broken up a little bit, but again, we're going to be just fine. Nick and I, we'll do our jobs, and then, obviously, we're going to find someone else to help us out.” 

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The last team to make the Super Bowl without having a bye? The 2012 Ravens

The last team to make the Super Bowl without having a bye? The 2012 Ravens

The NFL announced on Tuesday that the league will have a new playoff format beginning in 2020, one where seven teams from each conference would make the league's postseason.

While the new format helps those teams that finish with eight, nine or 10 wins and had previously been on the outside looking it, the new system also has its drawbacks. Each conference will now only have one team that earns a bye week, as the conference's No. 2 seed will now play on Wild Card weekend hosting the No. 7 seed.

Over the past seven seasons, all 14 Super Bowl participants were either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in their respective conference, meaning they had bye weeks. For the teams that made a deep run in the postseason, the extra week of rest proved to be beneficial.

So, it was worth wondering: Who was the last team was to play in a Super Bowl without having a bye week?

That would be the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens finished the regular season 10-6 and as AFC North division champs. But Baltimore had the worst record of any division winner, giving them the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.

After Baltimore dominated then-rookie Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round, the Ravens traveled to the Mile High City for a date with the Denver Broncos. The Ravens upset Denver in double overtime after quarterback Joe Flacco found Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game with less than a minute remaining in regulation.

In the conference championship, Baltimore traveled to Gillette Stadium and cruised by the Patriots, winning 28-13 and clinching their first Super Bowl berth since 2000. In Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore held off an epic San Francisco comeback and defeated the 49ers in a thriller, 34-31.

The Ravens proved that a team can win a Super Bowl without having a bye, but it hasn't happened in a long time. With the new playoff format, that will likely change.

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