AFC North: Asa Jackson

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals "barring a surprise," according to the NFL Network.

Webb is listed as questionable with a back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason, but he had full participation in every practice leading up to Sunday's game. A three-year starter, Webb declined through a spokesman to talk to reporters Friday.

Webb
If Webb is inactive, the Ravens would be down to three cornerbacks: Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Smith (chest) and Jackson (ankle) each missed preseason games with injuries, but neither were listed on the injury report.

Losing Webb would be a major blow to the defense because either Brown or Jackson would have to start alongside Smith. In the preseason, the Ravens were more comfortable starting Brown because he has more size to match up on the outside. Jackson typically lined up against the slot receiver.

If Webb doesn't play, it would make Saturday's release of cornerback Derek Cox a peculiar move. Cox, who has 56 career starts, has more experience than Brown and Jackson, who have a combined one NFL start.

Ravens safeties Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine can each play cornerback as well, which gives the team extra depth at that position.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There shouldn't be many health questions for the Baltimore Ravens heading into Sunday's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Pierce
All 53 players were suited up at Tuesday's practice, including running back Bernard Pierce and the Ravens' once-banged-up cornerbacks.

The Ravens' top three cornerbacks -- Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest) and Asa Jackson (ankle) -- all participated in position drills and looked fine backpedaling as well as changing directions. All three had missed at least half the preseason, but they had returned for the Ravens' last practice on Saturday.

Pierce, who missed the preseason finale with a concussion, also practiced for the entire media-viewing portion of practice. He is expected to replace suspended Ray Rice as the starting running back for the first two regular-season games.
The Baltimore Ravens looked like a healthier team when they took the field for Saturday's practice.

With eight days before the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, running back Bernard Pierce (concussion), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (chest), Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) and offensive tackle Jah Reid (concussion) all dressed for their non-contact workout.

It should be noted that Smith and Webb participated in some position drills but were limited in others during the media viewing portion. Jackson did the most among the injured cornerbacks.

Webb has missed the entire preseason, and Smith had sat out the past two games. Pierce, who was injured in the third preseason game, didn't practice last week and didn't make the trip to New Orleans for the preseason finale.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- With only 12 days until the regular season kicks off, the Baltimore Ravens were once again without their starting cornerbacks in practice.

Lardarius Webb hasn't suited up since hurting his lower back on July 25. He walked out onto the field during Tuesday's practice, but he only watched from the sideline.

Jimmy Smith did some running while others practiced Monday, but he wasn't on the field Tuesday. He hasn't practiced since bruising his chest in an Aug. 16 preseason game at Dallas.

Asked whether Smith and Webb will practice by the end of the week, coach John Harbaugh said, "I'm anticipating that."

The Ravens are also without their No. 3 cornerback Asa Jackson, who injured his ankle on Aug. 10. He ran off to the side during Tuesday's practice and worked on his lateral movement with a trainer.

"Asa is making progress," Harbaugh said. "He looked good today moving around."

For the second straight game, the Ravens are going with Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks as their starting cornerbacks for the preseason finale.
As Saturday's final cutdown approaches, the news with the Baltimore Ravens might not be who's getting released. It's who might get added.

In his Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King mentions he would be "surprised" if the Ravens don't deal for a cornerback this week.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Smith
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsRavens CB Jimmy Smith has been limited since suffering a bruised chest in a preseason game against Dallas on Aug. 16.
This isn't a groundbreaking development. Cornerback is the Ravens' most vulnerable spot because of injuries and depth issues.

Even though Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are expected to return from injuries to start in the Sept. 7 regular season opener, there is a major question mark at the No. 3 cornerback spot.

The Ravens can't be comfortable with what they currently have, right? Asa Jackson has never taken a defensive snap in a regular season game and hasn't practiced since injuring his ankle on Aug. 10. Chykie Brown isn't much more experienced than Jackson and has been a liability on deep throws. Veteran free agent Dominique Franks has played better recently but he didn't take snaps with the first-team defense until two weeks ago. And Terrence Brooks is currently the nickelback, but he's a third-round rookie who started at safety in college.

Trading is the best option to get someone who can make an immediate impact as the No. 3 cornerback. The alternative is waiting for someone to get cut Saturday, and that means that defender wasn't good enough to be a fifth corner for another team.

The Ravens currently have six picks in the 2015 draft (one in the first, second, third and fourth rounds and two in the seventh). But they are expected to receive three compensatory picks, one of which could end up being a fourth-rounder (for losing either defensive end Arthur Jones or offensive tackle Michael Oher in free agency).

So, the Ravens could be wiling to give up a fourth-round pick because they could recoup it later in the form of a compensatory pick. It's the same rationale the Ravens used last season, when they traded two picks (a fourth- and fifth-rounder) to the Jacksonville Jaguars for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.

The Ravens have the means to upgrade at cornerback. The problem is finding a team that will part with a quality defender. Teams such as the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints have depth at cornerback, but none of ESPN.com's reporters for those teams believes a trade is likely.

When it comes to needs, cornerback is clearly at the top of the list for the Ravens. Whether they can properly address this position -- and how much it will cost -- is the big question.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith has been ruled out for Saturday's preseason game against the Washington Redskins, according to coach John Harbaugh.

Smith bruised his chest on the opening drive of Saturday's 37-30 preseason win at the Dallas Cowboys. Harbaugh said earlier in the week that he anticipated Smith playing in the third preseason game. But the Ravens are taking the cautious route with Smith.

Smith

"He probably could play if it was a regular-season game," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh also ruled out cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle). It's interesting to note that Harbaugh said his top three cornerbacks wouldn't play, which insinuates that Jackson is above Chykie Brown on the depth chart.

With all of those cornerbacks sidelined, the Ravens will start Brown and Dominique Franks and use Terrence Brooks as the nickelback. They'll have to match up against the Redskins wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.

"It's going to be an opportunity for those guys to go against the best for a long period of time," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be a good chance to evaluate where we're at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best."
Teams can't play scared and rest every starter for the entire preseason. But there are instances when you have to play it safe.

For the Baltimore Ravens, it's time to be safe and smart with their starting cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb shouldn't suit up for another game until the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Put a red jersey on them so no one hits them in practice. Heck, put them in bubble wrap if it ensures they'll be able to line up when games matter in three weeks.

Webb
Even if Smith (bruised chest) and Webb (back) can return in the preseason, the Ravens can't take the risk of getting either one banged up. The situation would be different if the Ravens had depth at that position. But they don't.

The Ravens are looking at 0-2 if they have to line up Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks as their starting cornerbacks against the likes of A.J. Green and Antonio Brown. This makes you yearn for the days of Frank Walker. Well, almost.

The Ravens' cornerback position has been as snakebitten as the drummers for Spinal Tap. Aaron Ross, who may have ended up as the Ravens' No. 3 cornerback, tore his Achilles in a conditioning test before training camp started. Webb hurt his back July 25 and hasn't practiced since. Asa Jackson, who had been the team's top backup, hurt his right ankle Aug. 10 and wore a protective boot at Saturday's preseason game.

The last injury the Ravens needed was one to Smith. Five plays into Saturday's preseason game, there was Smith landing on his back, hitting the back of his head against the turf and spitting up blood.

While Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes Smith "should be fine," the 2011 first-round pick was more concerned about his health status.

Smith

"I don't know what is wrong with me," Smith told The Baltimore Sun. "On the field, I was throwing up blood. The X-rays came back negative, but I still don't know what is the problem. I don't want to say I'm OK, or it is one thing, and then it is something else. I really don't know."

It only took one series for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to take advantage of Smith's absence. Wide receiver Dez Bryant elevated over Franks to pull in a Romo pass for a 31-yard touchdown.

The Ravens don't have many other options on the team. Tremain Jacobs is raw, and fellow undrafted rookie Deji Olatoye got beat on consecutive passes, including a 5-yard touchdown throw.

There are really no easy fixes here. If free agents like Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson could help, each would be in some team's training camp by now. The best bet is looking at the cornerbacks who get cut when teams trim their rosters to 53 before the regular season. Teams don't release good cornerbacks, but there could be a player who is better than what's on the Ravens roster right now.

Come the season opener, the Ravens may be in decent shape at cornerback if Smith, Webb and Jackson are all healthy enough to play. Harbaugh has never described any of those injuries as major.

But if either Smith or Webb can't start, there's going to be a vulnerable spot in the Ravens secondary that Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger will look to exploit.
Asa Jackson gained an early edge over Chykie Brown for the Baltimore Ravens' No. 3 cornerback spot for one simple reason: He knows how to play the ball.

As he's done throughout training camp, Jackson delivered a big play in the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, picking off Blaine Gabbert in the second quarter. While Jackson described it as a routine play in zone coverage, he needed to make a leaping catch to pull in the interception.

Jackson
Jackson's play was even more impressive when comparing it to Brown's night. Brown was called for penalties on the first two passes thrown his way because he failed to turn back and locate the ball.

The way this summer has progressed, no one should be surprised if Jackson is lining up to cover the slot receiver in the season opener when the Ravens put three cornerbacks on the field.

"I'm just going to keep going out there and try to make plays and just try to become the best player I can," Jackson said of the competition with Brown. "It's not a one-on-one game. It's not me vs. anyone else's game. It's a team game."

Jackson is a small corner at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds. He has never played a defensive snap in a regular-season game. And he's more comfortable covering the slot than the outside, which is why Brown continues to fill in for Lardarius Webb (back) in the starting lineup.

But Jackson continues to stand out because he makes plays. The impressive part about his interception in the preseason opener was how it swung momentum. It came two plays after the Ravens had given the ball away on a fumble.

"He's got ball skills," coach John Harbaugh said. "He went up and got it. Generally speaking, that's what you want to do. You have a turnover, they happen. Your defense goes out there in a sudden-change situation and makes a play. Hopefully, that's something we can train into our guys for the regular season."

Jackson is currently working on his third, and possibly last, chance with the Ravens. He has been suspended in each of his first two NFL seasons for using the stimulant Adderall, which is a banned substance. It has led to two suspensions totaling 12 games.

His past mistakes put his current opportunity into perspective.

"I've had football taken away from me, so I re-understood how precious this game really is and how it's truly a privilege," Jackson said. "I appreciate every snap, practice and game. Hopefully, there's a lot more to come this season."
When the calendar hits June 1, it usually means the Baltimore Ravens are preparing to making one additional move.

This is a significant date because any free-agent signing past it doesn't count against a team's compensatory picks. The Ravens love their extra picks, and they're officially in line for three in the 2015 draft after losing four unrestricted free agents and signing one.

Baltimore has had some moderate success with its June signings. The Ravens landed inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who became one of their best defensive players last season, on June 5 of last year. They signed guard Bobbie Williams, who started six games during their Super Bowl season, in 2012, and added kicker Shayne Graham in 2010.

Will this June trend continue for the Ravens?

"We’re aware of the guys that are still out there, free agents that would be more favorable to sign after June 1 and all that," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’re going to be watching the waiver wire real close. We’re going to try and get better. We had a conversation, Ozzie [Newsome] and I, and I like to think on principle that we really believe this: We want to build as strong of a 53-man roster as we possibly can, and as we do that, try to get stronger every chance we can get. We’ll be looking.”

The two biggest positions of need for the Ravens are offensive tackle and cornerback.

There has been a lot of speculation about the Ravens signing offensive tackle Eric Winston. It makes sense because Winston played six seasons under Gary Kubiak, who is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator, and fits in the zone-blocking scheme. But, based on what the Ravens are saying, the team wants to see what Rick Wagner can do at right tackle before adding a veteran like Winston. There is also no guarantee that Winston, at the age of 30, is that much of an upgrade over what the Ravens already have.

The same argument could be made at cornerback, where the Ravens have two unproven defenders (Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson) battling for the No. 3 spot. The Ravens didn't sign or draft a cornerback after losing Corey Graham in free agency.

"Ozzie knows he has two great, young guys that are coming up," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "You’ve got Asa Jackson who can play the nickel and outside, but mostly better inside. And Chykie Brown has been playing good. He’s had his chance to get out on the field, but now he gets thrown in, and it’s his. He’s going to get to show you all what he’s capable of."
The top cornerbacks available are: Terrell Thomas, Drayton Florence, Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. Thomas is 29 and has dealt with multiple knee surgeries while with the New York Giants. Samuel, 33, was relegated to being a backup at the end of last season for the Atlanta Falcons, and Robinson, 32, lost his nickelback job to a rookie last season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The best of this group seems to be Florence, a journeyman 33-year-old defender who started five games last season for the Carolina Panthers.

Considering these options, the Ravens may wait to add a veteran cornerback at the end of the preseason, when the final major cutdown is made and a more viable defender hits the market. With only four corners with NFL experience, the Ravens will have to either sign a veteran corner or keep an undrafted rookie.
OWINGS MILLS -- Three starters on defense for the Baltimore Ravens -- linebacker Daryl Smith, cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety James Ihedigbo -- are listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. All were limited in Friday's practice.

Smith
Daryl Smith (thigh) and Jimmy Smith (groin) returned to practice after missing the past two days. Daryl Smith, the team's leading tackler, walked off the practice field gingerly. The Ravens would likely start Josh Bynes, who had been a starter until Jameel McClain was activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Another concern is the Ravens' secondary. Jimmy Smith, who injured his groin last Sunday, declined comment in the locker room. Ihedigbo was added to the injury report Friday after he was limited with a toe injury. A third defensive back, backup cornerback Corey Graham (calf), is also questionable.

To add more depth, the Ravens activated Asa Jackson, who had been suspended for the first eight games, and placed guard Kelechi Osemele on injured reserve.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (foot) is listed as probable after having a full practice Friday. He sat out Thursday.

Here is the complete injury report for the Ravens:

QUESTIONABLE: CB Corey Graham (calf), S James Ihedigbo (toe), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), LB Daryl Smith (thigh) and WR Brandon Stokley (groin).

PROBABLE: WR Marlon Brown (finger) and LB Terrell Suggs (foot).
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Recent NFL history says the Ravens can still reach the playoffs despite a 3-5 record. The Ravens' track record suggests they can rebound from this three-game losing streak.

But, to steal a line from Browns cornerback Joe Haden, it's becoming clear that these aren't the same Ravens of old. The old Ravens were perfect coming off the bye. The old Ravens were undefeated against the Browns over a stretch of 11 meetings heading into Sunday. In Sunday's 24-18 loss at Cleveland, the Ravens fell to the Browns for the first time since 2007 and dropped their first game following a bye under coach John Harbaugh. History hasn't become reality for the Ravens this season.

This is why it's difficult to think the Ravens can get everything back on track simply because they've done so in the past. There are too many recurring problems throughout the first half of the season -- slow starts, struggling running game and poor finishes on defense -- to believe everything is going to get rectified in the second half.

[+] EnlargeJohn Harbaugh
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJohn Harbaugh's Ravens are tied with Houston and Jacksonville for the most losses (four) in games decided by three points or fewer.
Harbaugh, though, would argue otherwise.

"As it stands, we're in a tough spot. But I believe in our guys, coaches and players," Harbaugh said Monday. "I know we have what it takes to be a very good football team in the second half of the season. What we do in the first half does not determine what we do in the second half. We have opportunities to accomplish everything we want to accomplish. We understand that. Now, our focus becomes one game. What we need to do is win one game. Momentum is a crazy thing. You have to stop theirs and build yours. Once you do that, you have a chance to build on that."

If you're searching for hope for the reeling Ravens, 32 teams since 2000 have reached the halfway point of a season with a .500 or below win percentage and still gone on to reach the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It has happened in each of the 13 seasons over that time, including three times last season: Redskins (3-5), Bengals (3-5) and the Seahawks (4-4).

The Ravens also have a history of recovering from losing three games in a row. This is the fourth time in Harbaugh's six seasons that his team has had such a losing streak. In 2008, the Ravens won four straight following a three-game losing streak. In 2009, the Ravens recovered from a three-game skid to make the playoffs with a 9-7 record. And, last season, the Ravens lost three consecutive times in December and won the Super Bowl in February.

How do the Ravens respond to this losing streak? Harbaugh wants the Ravens to concentrate on themselves, not the other teams on the schedule.

"To me, the biggest thing is to focus on our job," Harbaugh said. "The best players are the best players because they play the best. They do that by dominating their job. If you want to be a really good player, just dominate your job. Just focus on that. If we all do that, you get a little bit better all way across the board and then we have a chance to get over the hump."

Right now, only four teams in the AFC have a worse record than the Ravens: Buffalo (3-6), Houston (2-6), Pittsburgh (2-6) and Jacksonville (0-8). But the Ravens haven't conceded the division yet.

The Ravens are in third place but they trail the Bengals (6-3) by two games. Baltimore plays Cincinnati twice in the final eight games of the season, including Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"There's half a season left to play," Harbaugh said. "There's a lot of games out there for us to win. We need to go stack some wins. It's all about the next game. Cincinnati is leading the division, so this is an opportunity for us."

Here are some other notes from Harbaugh's press conference:

  • Left guard Kelechi Osemele will be placed on injured reserve. He is expected to have a three-to-four month recovery from back surgery, which would allow him to be ready for the team's offseason workout program.

  • Cornerback Asa Jackson is eligible to play after serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. The Ravens may need extra depth at cornerback with Jimmy Smith nursing a groin injury. "Hopefully, he's in that kind of shape where he can slide right in there and help us," Harbaugh said. "We'll see if he can help us this week. If he can, with our situation at corner, that could be a plus for us."

Observation deck: Ravens-Falcons

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
10:46
PM ET

The struggles of the Baltimore Ravens' starting offense this preseason has led to interceptions, three-and-outs and even a shouting outburst by running back Ray Rice.

Before the Ravens' backups rallied for a 27-23 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons, Joe Flacco and the offense provided another instance in which Baltimore misses its top two tight ends (Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are injured) and has yet to find a No. 2 wide receiver.

In five drives in the first half, the Ravens managed 131 yards of total offense and three first downs. Take away Torrey Smith's 77-yard touchdown -- the only highlight for the first-team offense in three quarters of play this preseason -- and Baltimore had 54 yards in the first half.

Flacco finished 7-of-9 for 118 yards, but the Ravens were 1-of-5 on third downs in the first half. Flacco's second interception of the preseason came when he forced a pass to Jacoby Jones, who was double covered on that play.

Rice didn't have much running room and was held to 10 yards on eight carries. When he was dropped 4 yards in the backfield late in the second quarter, a visibly upset Rice shouted as he headed to the sideline.

"That's about as bad as we can play," coach John Harbaugh told WBAL Radio while coming off the field at halftime, when the Ravens trailed 20-7.

In three quarters this preseason (eight total drives), the Ravens' starting offense has produced one touchdown, two turnovers (both interceptions) and three three-and-outs.

"We were just sloppy," Flacco said. "We never got into a rhythm."

Here are some other thoughts on the Ravens:
  • Jimmy Smith, who is trying to win a starting cornerback job, had a rough night against wide receiver Julio Jones. Smith gave up three completions to Jones on a first-quarter drive that resulted in gains of 32, 15 and 8 yards. On the 8-yard touchdown to Jones, it looked like Smith was expecting inside help from a safety.
  • Torrey Smith looked like a No. 1 receiver for the Ravens and accounted for two of the team's three third downs in the first half. On his touchdown, he caught a quick pass from Flacco and outran the Falcons defense for the score. Smith then converted a third-and-6 when he picked up 8 yards on a crossing route.
  • The Ravens were penalized seven times for 68 yards. A.Q. Shipley, who got the start at center, drew two flags. He was called for a 15-yard personal foul and was flagged for a false start when the Ravens were backed up to their own end zone. LaQuan Williams also ran into the punter in the third quarter, which allowed the Falcons to convert and fourth-and-3.
  • The Ravens defense is expected to be much stronger against the run this season. But the Falcons' Steven Jackson picked up yards in between the tackles, gaining 42 yards on eight carries, a 5.3-yard average.
  • David Reed had a solid showing as the kickoff returner. He averaged 31.3 yards on three returns, including a 38-yarder. Reed is trying to win one of the final roster spots.
  • Asa Jackson helped his cause for sticking around when he returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown, putting the Ravens ahead 27-23 with 6:18 left in the fourth quarter. Jackson has been suspended for the first eight games this season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The Baltimore Ravens have to question whether cornerback Asa Jackson has a future with the team after he was suspended for a second time in nine months for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs.

The NFL announced Friday that Jackson has been suspended without pay for the Ravens' first eight games. He is eligible to return on Nov. 4 and based on how Baltimore has handled repeat offenders in the past that might be when the Ravens part ways with him.

As one Ravens team official once told me, if a player does something wrong once, it's a mistake. If a player makes the same mistake again, then it's a problem.

Jackson, a fifth-round pick from a year ago, was suspended last season for using the stimulant Adderall, which is a banned substance.

“I was diagnosed with a condition that can be treated with a medication allowed under the NFL/NFLPA policy after a player obtains a therapeutic use exemption,” Jackson told The Baltimore Sun. “I now have the required approval, but the positive test occurred before it was approved. The policy is very strict, so I have chosen to be immediately accountable.

Jackson added, "I sincerely apologize to my teammates, coaches, and Ravens fans. I look forward to working hard in training camp and preseason, training hard during the discipline period and contributing to the team immediately upon my return.”

He has potential as a slot cornerback and special teams player, but the Ravens don't need Jackson and this sort of headache because they have depth at cornerback with Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, Chykie Brown and Chris Johnson.

If you're counting at home, Jackson has played in four games (if you count the playoffs) and has been suspended for 12 games. By the time he is eligible to come back in November, Jackson will have made $443,324 (including signing bonus) and been fined a total of $317,646.
Ravens reserve cornerback Asa Jackson has been suspended without pay for the team's next four games for violating the NFL's policy for performance-enhancing drugs.

His suspension begins immediately, according to the league. If Baltimore clinches a playoff spot, Jackson will be eligible to return to the active roster on the day following the team's first playoff game.

Jackson, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, has only played in three games this season. He has one special-teams tackle.

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