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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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!

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!

Three things to watch for as the Baltimore Ravens preseason begins

The Baltimore Ravens will head to Canton Ohio to kick off their 2018 preseason schedule against the Chicago Bears in the NFL Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night.

It will mark the first time the Ravens take the field since their heartbreaking 31-27 season-ending defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on December 31, 2017. That loss landed Baltimore out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

With most of the starters not expected to play on Thursday, here are three things I am watching for as the Ravens start their 2018 campaign.

1. Lamar Jackson

The buzz around Baltimore has been significant surrounding Lamar Jackson ever since the Ravens traded back into the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to select the 2016 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback out of Louisville 32nd overall.

Jackson’s accolades and statistics in the collegiate ranks are unprecedented. To go along with his Heisman Trophy, Jackson was the 2016 and 2017 ACC Player of the Year. He was also a unanimous first team All-American in 2016. In Jackson’s final two years at Louisville he amassed 10,375 total yards and 96 total TD’S.

So what does all of this mean at the next level? Absolutely nothing. The learning curve for Jackson begins for real this Thursday night and I cannot wait to see how the “future” of the quarterback position in Baltimore looks in his first test as an NFL quarterback. It will be interesting to see who starts the game, but it is expected that both Jackson and Robert Griffin III will receive significant playing time.

Jackson channeled his inner Bart Scott when asked about his debut:

2. Wide receiver corps

While nothing has been announced as of yet, it is unlikely that the Ravens new look receiving corps of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown will see much action in Thursday’s opener.

That means the spotlight will be on Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, and rookies Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley as they look to establish themselves as contributing members of what has recently been a very disappointing position group of late for the Ravens.

Moore has the inside track to be the number four receiver and is looking to improve upon his numbers from last season (18 catches 248 yards and 3 touchdowns). Moore is entering his third season in Baltimore out of the University of Cincinnati and Thursday could prove a key moment for him as he looks to gain a stranglehold on that fourth receiver spot.

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Breshad Perriman is fighting for a roster spot. Image Credit: Sporting News

The much maligned Perriman is entering his fourth season with the Ravens. The first- round draft pick in 2015 missed his entire rookie season with injuries and has struggled in his two seasons since, tallying just 43 catches and three touchdowns. After the Ravens picked up his roster bonus, he is now battling to make the week one roster. This could be Perriman’s last chance is Baltimore and a good showing on Thursday night could relieve some of the pressure he is sure to be feeling.

Scott and Lasley appear poised for significant reps at receiver in the preseason opener as well. Scott, a fourth-round pick out of New Mexico State has struggled out of the gate at training camp. Lasley was drafted in the fifth round out of UCLA and has been the more impressive of the two in training camp so far. Look for both to be featured prominently in the Ravens offense on Thursday night.

3. New Defensive Coordinator

While the 2017 Baltimore Ravens defense finished sixth in the NFL in points-per-game allowed (18.9), many Ravens fans, myself included, were excited when Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees retired one day after the 2017 season ended.

Often times Pees would sink into a “prevent” style defense when the team had the lead late in games.  This was a contributing factor in the Ravens inability to hold on to a 38-29 lead in the fourth quarter of what became an AFC North division clinching loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Enter Don “Wink” Martindale who was promoted to Defensive Coordinator this off-season. Martindale struggled in his only prior stint as an NFL defensive coordinator when he guided the Denver Broncos to a last place finish in total defense.  That hasn’t stopped many Ravens including Tony Jefferson from raving about him this offseason:

While it is just the first preseason game, the excitement around town is noticeable. Amid the Orioles fire sale, the Ravens will look to provide a welcomed distraction for Charm City as they get their 2018 campaign underway on Thursday night.

Image Credit: Associated Press

Podcast Episode 9: Rebuild – To build something again after it has been damaged or destroyed

Welcome to Episode 9 of the new Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell and author Ian Schultz.

As usual, the podcast opens with the weekly numbers segment (4:57), reminiscing the best Ravens and Orioles players to sport a #9 jersey.

Next, Jake and Ian mourn the loss of Manny Machado and break down the trade that sent the former O’s superstar to the Dodgers (14:13). As you can tell by the podcast’s title, the gang also addressed Dan Duquette’s recent public comments announcing that the Orioles are beginning a rebuild. Jake and Ian pondered whether or not Duquette is the right man to lead the rebuild, and broke down the latest trade rumors surrounding the ball-club.

Up next, Jake’s friend from high school, Conor Miller, calls in (30:56). Conor is the younger brother of 14 News Sports Director Bethany Miller, who was on the podcast in January. Conor, a lifelong Baltimore sports fan and current collegiate baseball player, gives us his reactions/hot takes to the Machado trade, the Orioles rebuild, and the start of Ravens training camp.

With the end of Conor’s call-in focusing on the Ravens, Jake and Ian’s next segment analyzes the first few days of Ravens training camp (54:28). We’ve already heard from both Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson, and the national media is having a field day with the current storylines surrounding the two quarterbacks. Will Jackson’s presence make Flacco more emotional than we’ve ever seen? What are the biggest takeaways from the first few practices? Football is back, and we’ll get you up-to-date on the latest Ravens nuggets.

Last but not least, we wrap up episode 9 with What an Idiot (1:04:53).This week, Jake and Ian call out Josh Hader and the Milwaukee Brewers fanbase for embarrassing themselves in front of America.

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 reviews on a future episode. Thank you for listening!