Darren Waller’s return will create another hard roster decision for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, MD — On August 7, the NFL reinstated Ravens tight end Darren Waller after the 25-year-old served a year-long suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. It marked the second suspension for Waller since the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Georgia Tech.

Waller hit the practice field for the first time on Saturday, joining a crowded tight end competition featuring rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, and fourth-year veterans Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, and Vince Mayle. Baltimore also has undrafted rookie tight end Nick Keizer of Grand Valley State on their roster.

Although Waller has flashed in limited action, he’s had problems staying on the field. The aforementioned year-long suspension was the second time that the NFL took action against him in a calendar year. After Waller’s first suspension that occurred during the 2016 season, he acknowledged that he’s a marijuana user. Even though several NFL players use marijuana and have campaigned for the league to allow players to use it, it’s still illegal in many states and it’s still on the NFL’s list on banned substances.

Over the next few weeks, Waller will need an impressive string of practices for the Ravens to consider using a roster spot on him. The tight end position is one of the key position battles in camp to this point. With Hurst and Andrews being early-to-mid-round picks, they will definitely make the roster and get their chances to make plays.

Waller is not the only tight end on the roster who has struggled to stay on the field. Williams, who underwent a severe knee procedure during the 2016 season, has never made it through 16 games. He did flash in the Hall-of-Fame game against the Bears, but then missed last Thursday’s preseason game against the Rams for an undisclosed reason. Williams returned to practice on Monday, but he’s continuing to prove that his health is still a red flag.

Boyle will make the roster. He’s the best blocker on the team and only missed one game last season. He’s also served two suspensions, but he’s seemingly put his substance problems behind him. Mayle is a question mark. He will likely need to outperform Waller in practice for the Ravens to consider keeping him.

After Waller returned to the practice field, head coach John Harbaugh made it clear that Waller missing all of this time is not okay.

“He needs to be here,” Harbaugh said. “I have not seen the guy for a year. I love him, he’s a great guy, talented guy, and all that, but where’s he been? You gotta be here. You don’t just come waltzing in and all of the sudden you’re the starting tight end, you have to prove it, you have to do some things for us. You have to make plays. I love him, but like I told him, I’m going to be the hardest guy on him of anybody. I’m going to be on him every single day, because he’s got a lot to prove.”

Tight end is not the only crowded position on the roster for the Ravens. Wide receiver, offensive line, outside linebacker, and cornerback are all loaded with talent and could result in some big names getting cut and finding new homes elsewhere. The Ravens preseason roster is stacked this year, much more than it has been in recent seasons.

Predicting the 53-man roster is almost impossible right now. No matter how you slice it, there will be a handful of starting-caliber NFL players, possibly even some early-round draft picks of previous seasons, who will be cut because the Ravens have no room for them.

Did I mention that there’s also a good chance that the Ravens will keep three quarterbacks on the roster, something that they have not done since Joe Flacco‘s rookie season?

When it comes to the tight ends, I think the Ravens end up keeping four. If there weren’t two rookies included in the group, I would feel confident saying that the Ravens keep three. Rookies often endure growing pains in the NFL, and both Hurst and Andrews have already dealt with minor injuries. With that being said, keeping four tight ends seems like the smart thing to do this season.

With Hurst, Andrews, and Boyle as my locks to make the roster, the final tight end slot boils down to Williams and Waller. Statistically, Williams is the clear favorite. He’s compiled 47 receptions for 354 yards and two touchdowns over three seasons, compared to Waller’s 12 receptions, 103 yards, and two touchdowns in two seasons.

This is a tough call. Both Williams and Waller have not been available much, but for different reasons. Williams was the higher draft pick, but Waller made a position change from wide receiver to tight end before the 2016 season, something that’s not easy and often gets overlooked. Williams has better stats, but Waller has better athleticism. Waller’s durability beats out that of Williams, who may never reach full speed again after his knee procedure.

No matter who makes the Ravens’ 53-man roster and who ends up getting cut, some talented players will hit the market. And after the waivers clear, some players could even return to the Ravens on the practice squad. The Ravens already had enough on their plate this summer in terms of putting the roster together, but Waller’s return from suspension throws another wrench into the fire.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 

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Podcast Episode 12: Dissecting the horrible mess that is the Maryland Football program

Welcome to Episode 12 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

Unfortunately, this week’s show kicks off with a lengthy discussion surrounding the horrible mess that is the Maryland Football program (0:52). Last week, ESPN released a detailed report siting several current University of Maryland football players and other people close to the organization calling it a “toxic culture” under head coach D.J. Durkin. On June 13, Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair passed away after the 19-year-old had passed out during an outdoor football workout on May 29.

Since the report became public, coach Durkin has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues. Both the University of Maryland’s athletic department and the university itself are being questioned about their lack of attention to McNair’s situation following the May 29 practice.

After the Maryland segment concludes, Jake and Ian go into a lengthy conversation about the Baltimore Ravens (17:50) Following the Ravens’ 33-7 win over the Rams on Thursday, the guys tell you who’s trending, either in a good or bad way (21:12). The crew also discusses the latest training camp nuggets (30:34) and tells you what to watch for next Monday night as the Ravens hit the road to take on the Indianapolis Colts in more preseason action (33:30).

Up next, Jake and Ian talk about the extremely early exit of the Orioles from the American League East division race (36:40). In fact, the Orioles officially being eliminated on August 10 is the earliest date in the divisional era that a team has been out of the race for their team’s division. But it’s not all bad, because this Orioles segment wraps up with some talk on the call-up of Cedric Mullins and Adam Jones moving to right field (41:11).

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Ravens & Orioles players to wear the number 12 (44:57).

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A look at Cedric Mullins’ Orioles debut following 19-12 loss to Red Sox

BALTIMORE — In the latest development in the rebuild of the Baltimore Orioles, the ball-club called up outfielder Cedric Mullins from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox at Camden Yards.

The move had been expected for awhile with Mullins carrying a .288 average and a .346 on-base percentage (OBP) between both Norfolk and Double-A Bowie this season. The arrival of Mullins saw a noticeable change in the Orioles’ outfield that’s been rumored for weeks. When the Baltimore lineup card was revealed a few hours before first pitch, Mullins’ name was penned batting ninth in the centerfield slot, with long-time centerfielder Adam Jones in right-field while still hitting from the #3 spot in the lineup.

“Adam’s playing right field today and that’s the direction we’re going tonight,” manager Buck Showalter said during Friday’s pre-game press conference. “Is he going to play right field the rest of the year? Yeah, as opposed to who? My plan is for Adam to play right field until he needs a day off and we’ve got some other options, without naming other guys down in Triple-A. But Adam’s playing right field.”

https://twitter.com/SimplyAJ10/status/1027995552598945794

The change in centerfield from Jones to Mullins marks a new era for the Orioles. Dating back to 2008, Jones has started 1,537 games manning centerfield for the Orioles. Tonight marked just the fourth career start for Jones in right-field, and the first in his Orioles career. The other three appearances for Jones in right took place with the Mariners before the infamous 2007 trade that sent Jones to Baltimore. The change to right field certainly isn’t easy for the 33-year-old Jones, but the O’s legend had no problem passing the torch.

As the Orioles got set to take the field, Jones refused to step out of the dugout before Mullins. Jones, who usually leads the team onto the field, deferred to the rookie. After a quick discussion (and getting bypassed out of the dugout by Tim Beckham), Mullins trotted onto the field, with Jones behind him.

The entire game did not see much effective pitching, and Mullins used that to his advantage. In his first major league at-bat in the second inning, Mullins smacked a 97-MPH Nathan Eovaldi fastball to the corner in right field for a double, plating Renato Nuñez. Mullins’s contribution became part of a four-run inning that gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead. The 23-year-old finished up his first offensive appearance by crossing home, appropriately scoring on a single by Jones.

The Orioles again plated four in the third inning, where Mullins delivered again in his second at-bat. This time, Mullins racked up his second RBI on a sharply-hit bouncer to second baseman Brock Holt. The Red Sox infield was drawn in, and Holt could not find the correct angle on the ball before it bounced off the ground and rolled into right field. Mullins scored again on a single, this one by Beckham.

In the fifth inning, Mullins reached base again by walking with two outs, but would not advance as Jonathan Villar lined out to Boston left-fielder Andrew Benintendi. Mullins hit a pop-up to Benintendi in the seventh. Finally in the ninth, Mullins came up again with two outs and delivered another double to right-center, capping off a hot night at the plate: 3-for-5 with two doubles, a single, and two RBI. Mullins crossed home for the third time when Villar singled to center for Baltimore’s 12th run, but Beckham followed that up with an infield groundout to end the game.

Defensively, Mullins looked like a natural in centerfield, but the night was not perfect. In the fourth inning, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a 91-MPH fastball by Dylan Bundy to deep left center that proved to be a tough test for Mullins. The ball was hit hard enough to send Mullins full speed to the warning track. Mullins extended his right arm out and the ball graced the edge of his glove, but dropped and bounced to the right of Mullins, leading to a triple and a run with Holt crossing.

The play is certainly one that Mullins would like to have back, but these things can happen in unfamiliar ballparks with new teammates. Mullins will get more comfortable with the dimensions of Camden Yards in due time. Having Jones there to offer support and advice will pay huge dividends.

Bradley Jr.’s triple made it 8-4 Baltimore. Although the Red Sox mustered that lone run in the fourth, they would plate six in the sixth inning, largely in-part to five walks by the Orioles. The Red Sox put together a five-run eighth inning, giving them four big innings in the contest. After the Red Sox made it a 19-12 final, the Orioles finished the game with 10 walks charged to their pitching staff. Red Sox pitchers walked four for a total of 14 walks own the evening.

According to Rob Daniels on Twitter, this loss marks the third time in team history in which the Orioles allowed 19 or more runs along with 10 or more walks. The Red Sox pitching staff walked four Orioles batters on their side.

After the fact…

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Three things to watch for as the Ravens take on the Rams Thursday night

The Baltimore Ravens will take on the Los Angeles Rams Thursday evening at M&T Stadium in their week one preseason matchup.

The Ravens look to build off of their preseason-opening 17-16 victory over the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame game last week in Canton Ohio.

Here are three things watch for during Thursday night’s contest.

1) Who plays and for how long? 

According to ESPN‘s Jamison Hensley, Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco said that he expects to play in Thursday’s game. If Flacco does play, could this mean the debuts of the revamped starting receiving corps of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown?

If any of these guys see the field on Thursday night it is unknown how long they will play. Traditionally Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has had his starters play a series or two in the first preseason game. It would mark the first preseason action for Flacco since Aug. 27, 2016 versus Detroit as he missed all of last year’s games with a herniated disk in his back.

What impact will Flacco’s apperarance have on the playing time of the other Ravens quarterbacks? Robert Griffin III performed well in the preseason opener while Lamar Jackson struggled and looked like a quarterback who needs as many reps as he can get this preseason.

It will also be intriguing to see if veteran defensive stalwarts Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle see the field Thursday night. Suggs is entering his 16th season and has looked great in camp this summer. Weddle is entering his 12th season but you wouldn’t know it from this clip after joint practice with the Rams on Monday as he seems as charged up as ever.

2) Who keeps their momentum going and who bounces back?

The toast of the town late last week was Ravens third-year linebacker Kamalei Correa. Correa was a beast against the Bears, finishing with six tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. His effort earned him some praise from Harbaugh.

Going into the contest, I was anxious to see what impact new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale would have on the defense and Correa’s big night was a product of returning to outside linebacker, his natural position. It will be interesting to see if Correa can provide another big night and continue to remove himself from the roster bubble.

Looking to bounce back for the Ravens would be wide receiver Breshad Perriman. The trials and tribulations of Perriman have been well documented and on the Ravens first possession last Thursday night, Perriman provided another moment to his list.

This interception led Gordon McGuiness of Pro Football Focus to take still frames of two plays from Perriman’s last two games against the Bears.

Perriman finished the night with two catches for 19 yards and has quite a mountain to climb to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

3) Offensive Line play

Ravens quarterbacks were sacked eight times last Thursday night. Six of the eight sacks were endured by mobile quarterbacks Griffin and Jackson.  This is an alarming trend considering both players move significantly better in getting away from pressure than Flacco does.

Orlando Brown Jr led the group in total snaps and performed satisfactorily in his first taste of NFL action.  It’s worth noting that the remaining leaders in offensive linemen snaps (Jermaine Eluemunor, Bradley Bozeman, Maurquice Shakir, and Randin Crecelius) are not anticipated to be starters for the Ravens but it leaves the offensive line’s depth in doubt.

Given Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda’s injury history, this is a definite area of improvement for the Ravens this Thursday night. Lewis returned to practice on July 28 after sitting out a few sessions with a nagging ankle injury. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.

Yanda came off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on Monday and returned to practice on a limited basis. This is a great sign for the Ravens as he is working his way back from a fractured ankle he suffered in week two last season. He also suffered a partially-torn rotator cuff while lifting weights in December and underwent a procedure to fix it up. The shoulder injury is actually what’s held Yanda out to this point. He is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.

The Details:

Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

11: Ravens HOF weekend recap & a look at the new NFL helmet rules

Welcome to Episode 11 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

This week the podcast is heavily focused on the Ravens as they come off of an eventful weekend. The guys don’t waste any time diving right into Ray Lewis and his Hall Of Fame speech (5:00). After that the conversation switches over the Ravens 17-16 win over the Bears in the HOF game (15:25). Jake, Nolan, and Ian all give their opinion on which players they think are trending up and trending down after the first preseason game.

Before turning their attention to this coming week’s matchup with the Rams, the guys spend some time dissecting the new NFL rules involving helmet hits (34:38). The issue has made headlines everywhere since Thursday and the Charm City Bird Watch crew is eager to give their takes as well.

The Ravens discussion concludes with a look ahead to the second preseason game. The Ravens and Rams will practice together this week in Owings Mills before meeting at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night (42:45)

The podcast concludes with some brief Orioles talk (50:23). The excitement of the trade deadline has passed and now we are left with an even more incomplete team. However, there are a handful of new Orioles that have made their debut in black and orange this past week. The weekly numbers segment is pushed back to the end of this weeks podcast, where you can hear some memories of former players like Robert Andino and Kamar Aiken (55:50).

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes. Please leave us a review, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thank you for listening!

Orioles win 9-6 to avoid sweep in Arlington

ARLINGTON- The Baltimore Orioles were able to salvage the final game of a four-game set with the Texas Rangers on Sunday, scoring a 9-6 win in order to avoid being swept for the 15th time this season.

Mark Trumbo had a huge day at the plate and got started early with a RBI single off Rangers starter Drew Hutchison in the top of the first scoring Jace Peterson who singled on the first pitch of the game.  After Yefry Ramirez relinquished the lead in the bottom of the first, catcher Austin Wynns clubbed his third homer of the season, a three-run-shot, to put the O’s back in front 4-2.

It was a rough day for Ramirez though who failed to get out of the second inning.  After issuing a lead-off walk to Willie Calhoun to start the second, Drew Robinson doubled to deep right to put runners on second and third with nobody out. A Shin-Soo Choo sac fly cut the lead to 4-3.

Unfortunately for Ramirez, he was unable to weather the storm and would surrender two more hits,two more walks, and two more runs in the inning and left the game with two outs in the frame. Tanner Scott relieved Ramirez and worked out of the situation by striking out Ronald Guzman which kept the deficit at 5-4.

After Jonathan Villar led off the third with a walk, Trumbo delivered the first of his two homers on the day to give the Orioles a 6-5 lead. Scott worked a scoreless third and fourth for the Birds before yielding to Donnie Hart for the bottom of the fifth.

Hart took over protecting a 7-5 lead in the fifth after Villar added a solo shot to his day to extend the Orioles lead. Hart went 1.2 scoreless innings striking out three before Miguel Castro came in to finish the sixth inning.  The Orioles extended their lead to 9-5 in the top of the seventh inning when Trumbo added his second homer of the game, a two-run shot.

Trumbo finished the day 3-4 with 2HRS and 5RBI and Villar reached base in all four of his at bats going 3-3 with three runs scored and a walk. Villar is 8-17 since joining the Orioles via the Jonathan Schoop trade.

Castro pitched a scoreless seventh before turning the ball over to Paul Fry who struggled with his control in the bottom of the eighth inning. After Calhoun flied out, Fry walked Robinson and Choo before throwing a wild pitch to advance the runners. Rougned Odor grounded out to cut the lead to 9-6 and that would close the book on Fry as Mychal Givens got the final out in the eighth.

Givens pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his second save of the season. Scott took the win for the Orioles to get to 2-2 on the year out of the bullpen. The loss went to Hutchison for the Rangers who fell to 1-2 on the year.

The Orioles (34-78) are off Monday before opening a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays (56-56) on Tuesday in St. Petersburg.

Image Credit: AP

10: Orioles blow it up at the trade deadline & reminiscing on the career of Ray Lewis

Welcome to Episode 10 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

It’s a loaded episode this week as the guys give their initial thoughts on the Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop trades (29:15), but as always things start with the weekly numbers segment (6:00). It’s fitting that this is episode ten because Adam Jones has been making headlines recently as he decided to stay in Baltimore with the O’s. The guys look back on Jones’ career so far and give their takes on his decision (16:30).

After wrapping up all the Orioles news for the week, the conversation switches to the Ravens (39:50) and their big weekend coming up. It all starts with their first preseason game of the year on Thursday (41:20) and then concludes with a celebration when Ray Lewis enters the Hall Of Fame on Saturday night (45:30).

To honor Lewis’ big achievement, the Charm City Bird Watch crew gives their favorite memories of Ray’s career and have some fun talking about his famous pregame introduction and dance (52:22). The podcast concludes with some prop bets for Ray’s speech (58:23).

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes. Please leave us a review, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thank you for listening!