Baltimore Ravens: Terrence Brooks

The Baltimore Ravens placed three more players on injured reserve Tuesday: cornerback Asa Jackson (knee), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee).

That increases the Ravens' total number of players on IR to 16. This is the most players the Ravens have placed on IR since 2008, when they had 19 players on the list in coach John Harbaugh's first season. The Ravens had only six players on IR last season.

The Ravens filled two of the roster spots by signing defensive tackle Casey Walker off the New England Patriots' practice squad and promoting offensive lineman Ryan Jensen from their own practice squad. Walker, 25, played in five games for the Patriots this season, including one start, before being waived after the team signed running back LeGarrette Blount. Jensen, a sixth-round pick by the Ravens in 2013, spent all of last season on the Ravens' 53-man roster and was on their practice squad this season.

There is one spot left on the Ravens' 53-man roster. It could be filled by a defensive back.

Jackson was the only starter placed on injured reserve Monday. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in just his second game back after being activated off short-term injured reserve with a sprained toe. The Ravens could replace him in the starting lineup with Rashaan Melvin, who has no career starts; Anthony Levine, a converted safety; or Antoine Cason, who is in his second week with the Ravens after being cut by Carolina.

Taliaferro and Brooks are two rookie draft picks. Taliaferro, a fourth-round selection, is a key loss because he had regained the primary backup role behind Justin Forsett. He gained 292 yards rushing (averaging 4.3 yards per carry) and scored four touchdowns. Bernard Pierce will take over as the No. 2 running back.

Brooks, a third-round pick, sustained a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff Sunday. It came at a time when his snaps had decreased. He was benched two weeks ago after giving up a touchdown in New Orleans and was inactive the previous week.
It's time to click open our weekly Baltimore Ravens mailbag ...

@jamisonhensley: Strong safety Matt Elam is certainly headed in that direction, but it's too soon to put a label on him right now other than "disappointment." The 32nd overall pick of the 2013 draft has played a grand total of 28 games. His body of work so far has been below average. Elam struggles in coverage, especially deep downfield, and hasn't been a reliable tackler. There are signs that he can become a playmaker. He forced two key turnovers in fourth quarters (in Indianapolis and Cincinnati) when he ripped the ball away. His biggest problem has been not playing with confidence. There's no guarantees that Elam is going to live up to the expectations of being a first-round pick. But he could be a prospect who develops slowly like cornerback Jimmy Smith and pass- rusher Paul Kruger.

@jamisonhensley: There are no open tryouts at One Winning Drive ... yet. Cornerback is going to be a major storyline all offseason, from Jimmy Smith's recovery from season-ending foot surgery to Lardarius Webb's contract status to the moves needed to upgrade the position. The Ravens have to improve this group that could potentially return Smith, Webb, Asa Jackson, Anthony Levine Danny Gorrer and Tramain Jacobs. This position has to be a priority in the draft after not taking a corner in the first four rounds the past three years. The Ravens should also think about adding a mid-level free agent to bring more experience.

@jamisonhensley: Don't see that happening. The Ravens have drafted with the 3-4 defense in mind, especially this past season. Second-round pick Timmy Jernigan is a defensive tackle (or "three technique, which is Haloti Ngata's position) and fourth-rounder Brent Urban is a fit at defensive end (or "five technique," which is Chris Canty's spot). Brandon Williams, a third-round selection in 2013, has exceeded expectations at nose tackle. This type of investment means the Ravens will continue to play a 3-4 defense.

@jamisonhensley: Smith's recovery will be a hot topic throughout the offseason. He is expected to be fully recovered sometime in May, barring any setbacks. That means there's a chance Smith will participate in offseason workouts and the full-team minicamp in June. A foot injury has to be a difficult one for a cornerback because that position requires backpedaling and planting to change directions. Here's betting that Smith will be the same considering his work ethic and the motivation of being a contract year.

@jamisonhensley: Wish I had an answer for you. I asked Elvis Dumervil about the penalties, and he said he thought he wasn't lined up in the neutral zone. But the camera angles show him lining up offside. This is starting to feel like the difficulty the Ravens had with offensive tackle Michael Oher and his false starts. In fact, Dumervil has been flagged for offside or lining up in the neutral zone 10 times in 17 games with the Ravens. This is more than a one-game penalty hat trick for Dumervil. It's becoming a bad trend.

@jamisonhensley: Young players tend to go in the doghouse quickly after mistakes. Since fumbling in Pittsburgh, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro has run the ball a total of three times in the past three games, including zero carries the past two weeks. That's why it wasn't a surprise when rookie safety Terrence Brooks was benched a week after not attacking the ball and breaking up a touchdown pass in New Orleans. Even though Elam played 57 snaps, he didn't really take advantage of them. He allowed three catches for 26 yards, committed two penalties and missed one tackle. The Ravens shuffle through safeties on a weekly basis, so no one should be surprised if Elam's snaps are reduced Sunday in Miami.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has taken heavy criticism after the Baltimore Ravens allowed two touchdowns in the final four minutes of Sunday's 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers. But general manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens' front office has to take their share of the blame for handcuffing Pees with an undermanned and overwhelmed secondary.

How bad has it become for the Ravens? The Ravens are ranked second-to-last in pass defense (only the Atlanta Falcons are worse) and they're on pace to shatter the franchise record for most passing yards allowed.

Much of the Ravens' struggles in the secondary can be traced back to the team's decisions over the past two years:
  • The Ravens gambled on two cornerbacks developing (Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson) and lost. They put too much faith in a couple of inexperienced cornerbacks to become the No. 3 cornerback, especially with the injury history of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown was cut earlier this month after getting repeatedly beat, and Jackson went on short-term injured reserve after struggling as well (99th-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus).
  • The Ravens didn't sign a proven veteran backup this offseason. It's understandable that the Ravens chose not to retain Corey Graham considering the Buffalo Bills signed him to a four-year, $16 million deal. The mistake was failing to add someone the caliber of Brandon Flowers. The Ravens should've made a big push to get Flowers in June before he signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Chargers. Flowers has three interceptions this season and is currently the fourth-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus. The Ravens have since gone through Dominique Franks, Derek Cox and Aaron Ross (injured) with little success.
  • Their drafting at the safety position has not produced immediate results. The Ravens addressed safety with a first-round pick last year (Matt Elam) and a third-rounder this year (Terrence Brooks). That's a major investment for a position that still remains a liability. Elam lost his starting job this season after being the worst coverage safety in the NFL and missing 12 tackles. Brooks has had an up-and-down rookie season and was benched Sunday after giving up a touchdown in New Orleans the previous week. He is not making the same consistent impact as the Ravens' other selections in the first three rounds (linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and tight end Crockett Gillmore).

The Ravens did make some good moves this offseason, signing wide receiver Steve Smith, tight end Owen Daniels and safety Will Hill to bargain deals. They also made the right decision to go with inexperienced Rick Wagner at right tackle.

But the Ravens could tell this summer that the secondary was going to be a major weak spot, and Newsome didn't work his usual magic to add talent there. The season-ending foot injury to Jimmy Smith only underscored the problem.

Pees has tried different combinations to improve the pass defense. The Ravens have started six different cornerbacks and used seven players at safety to no avail.

Now, heading into the final four games of the regular season, the Ravens are going with a struggling Webb (ranks No. 203 out of 214 corners by Pro Football Focus) and converted safety Anthony Levine at cornerback, as well as a constant rotation at safety alongside Hill.

It's easy to rip Pees when the defense gives up 965 yards passing and 61 points the past two games. But you also have to point the finger at Newsome and the front office for the makeshift secondary, which looks like it will be the Ravens' undoing.
The Baltimore Ravens' season is only a little over halfway complete, and this year's rookie class has already distinguished itself as the most immediately productive in coach John Harbaugh's seven seasons.

No other group of rookies have been on the field more than this year's one. Seven first-year players have logged at least 95 snaps this season. How special is that? The previous six rookie classes have never had more than four players contribute that much for an entire season, much less the first 10 games of a season like these current rookies.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is the leading candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year, and Timmy Jernigan is a big part of the defensive line rotation. Crockett Gillmore is the team's No. 2 tight end, safety Terrence Brooks is getting more playing time in passing situations and Lorenzo Taliaferro has been the backup running back for most of the year. Offensive tackle James Hurst and guard John Urschel formed the left side of the Ravens' line for two games.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesRavens rookie C.J. Mosley is the top contender for NFL defensive rookie of the year.
The Ravens have made bigger splashes under Harbaugh. The first draft class under him brought in a franchise quarterback (Joe Flacco) and the eventual No. 2 rusher in team history (Ray Rice). The Ravens have found a handful of starters in certain years. Four starters on this year's team were drafted in 2013: safety Matt Elam, nose tackle Brandon Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and offensive tackle Rick Wagner.

But no recent Ravens rookie group has been as deep as this year's one.

"This year probably has been one of our best years," coach John Harbaugh said. "It’s a good group of young guys. They‘re very motivated. They work really hard. They love football. I don’t see their heads in a lot of different places. I see them thinking about football every single day, and those are the kind of guys you want to bring in.”

Here's a look at this year's rookie class player by player:

ILB C.J. Mosley (first round): His 90 tackles rank fourth in the NFL and are 22 more than any other rookie in the NFL. Mosley has a great chance to become the Ravens' first NFL defensive rookie of the year since Terrell Suggs in 2003.

DT Timmy Jernigan (second round): His ability to disrupt goes beyond his 11 tackles and one sack. Jernigan is the second highest-rated rookie defensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.

CB Terrence Brooks (third round): It's been an up-and-down rookie season. Brooks' best play was his knockout hit of Titans tight end Delanie Walker last Sunday. His worst came last month when he gave up a 53-yard reception to Mohamed Sanu on third down, which led to Cincinnati's winning touchdown.

TE Crockett Gillmore (third round): He's the 13th-best run blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus. His six receptions rank fifth among rookie tight ends.

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth round): After losing a critical fumble in Pittsburgh, Taliaferro dropped behind Bernard Pierce on the depth chart last Sunday. His 257 yards rushing rank ninth among rookies and his four touchdowns are tied for third.

G John Urschel (fifth round): He started two games at left guard in October (both wins), moving ahead of Gino Gradkowski on the depth chart. Urschel also played one snap at center last Sunday when Jeremy Zuttah left briefly with an injury.

WR Michael Campanaro (seventh round): He was starting to find his niche as the team's slot receiver, recording a season-high 40 yards receiving at Cincinnati. But a hamstring injury has sidelined him the past two games.

OT James Hurst (undrafted): He became the first rookie to start at left tackle for the Ravens since Michael Oher in 2009. Hurst struggled in his four starts, committing four penalties and giving up three sacks. Still, this was a lot to ask of an undrafted rookie.

ILB Zachary Orr (undrafted): He's primarily a special teams player who has played in all but one game. Three penalties in four games led to him sitting one week.

NOTE: DE Brent Urban (fourth round) is on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, and QB Keith Wenning (sixth round) is on the practice squad.

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens' 21-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday was inspired by an emotional speech from the most experienced player in the secondary and was stamped by a crushing blow by their youngest defensive back.

The result was one of the most dominating performances in the Ravens' storied history of defense. Over the last three quarters, the Ravens recorded more sacks (five) than first downs allowed (four). In the second half, the defense gave up 45 total yards (fifth-fewest allowed in a second half by a Ravens defense) and never let the Titans get any closer than 60 yards from the end zone.

The Ravens made Zach Mettenberger look like a rookie quarterback making his first road start in the NFL, and some will roll their eyes at the Ravens' staggering defensive numbers because of that. But this was only a week removed from the Ravens allowing six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, and no one was more fed up than cornerback Lardarius Webb.

On Wednesday, Webb stood up in the defensive backs meeting room and got something off his chest.

"He's been here and it's a tradition where the secondary just plays ball," cornerback Anthony Levine said. "You could tell in his eyes that he was tired of what was going on and he was just like, 'We need to step up and make some plays.'"

The player who stepped up was certainly a surprise. Rookie safety Terrence Brooks, who was inactive last week after allowing a game-changing play the previous week, broke up a pass to tight end Delanie Walker and apparently broke the Titans' desire to go over the middle as well.

With about two minutes left in the first half, Brooks leveled Walker by putting his right shoulder into him and causing Walker to land on his back without the ball. It knocked the Titans' leading receiver out of the game with a concussion, and the Ravens feel it sent a message to the rest of the Titans.

"It really changed the impact of the way receivers started running routes," Elvis Dumervil said. "I think anytime a guy gets hit like that ... it really made guys think of running back there."

Before that hit, Mettenberger was 11-of-16 (68.7 percent) for 116 yards and one touchdown. His passer rating was 110.4.

After the hit, he was 5-of-11 (45.4 percent) for 63 yards and one interception. His rating was 25.9.

"As a team, we want to have a certain standard to be physical," Brooks said.

The Ravens improved to 9-3 against rookie quarterbacks under coach John Harbaugh with a pass rush that rattled Mettenberger. With Dumervil and Terrell Suggs crashing the edges, the Ravens recorded five sacks and hit Mettenberger a total of eight times.

They also ended a two-game losing streak with a makeshift secondary that included Anthony Levine, a reserve safety who didn't know he was starting at cornerback until a few hours before the game.

Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo sent Levine a text message that read: "Be ready." Levine initially didn't know what that meant.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," said Levine, who led the Ravens with two passes defensed. "To call myself a starting something in the NFL -- whether it was safety or corner -- I was happy to say that."

This was an important win for the Ravens because of the circumstances. The Ravens had gone from the top to the bottom of the division in two weeks. They learned that they lost their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, three days ago.

On a day when the Ravens' offense and quarterback Joe Flacco provided little help, the defense was the catalyst that closed the Ravens (6-4) to within a half game of the first-place Cleveland Browns (6-3).

"This is a tough squad," Webb said. "They always say, 'Play Like A Raven.' That means playing tough and being resilient."
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 21-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans:

Brooks
Brooks stands by his hit: The biggest collision of the game occurred late in the second quarter when rookie safety Terrence Brooks delivered a violent hit on Delanie Walker on third down, causing the Titans tight end to drop the ball. Walker was knocked out of the game with a concussion, and some Titans players took exception to the hit. Brooks believes it was a legal blow, saying he made sure he hit with his shoulder in the strike zone. "I just knew I broke on the ball and delivered a good hit," he said. "I definitely tried not to hit him in the head. I'm sure they'll review it. But for the most part, I'm just glad that I made the play and I was able to make the play on third down."

Unexpected result on fourth down: The Ravens tied the game at 7 in the second quarter with Justin Forsett's 9-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1. While coach John Harbaugh always expects to convert when he goes for it on fourth down, the result was a bonus. "You don't expect it go for a touchdown," said Harbaugh, who hadn't converted a fourth down in the red zone this year. "With our history, I was happy to see that it was going to get a first down, and it was close because their end played it really well. To me, it was Justin Forsett making a play. Justin Forsett made a really good play to get around the edge there, and it was huge for us."

Surprise starter: Anthony Levine, a reserve safety, didn't get the news that he was going to start at cornerback until Sunday. "I've been waiting for this for a long time," Levine said. "To call myself a starting something in the NFL -- whether it was a safety or corner -- I was happy to say that I was starting." Levine replaced Jimmy Smith, who is out for the season with a foot injury. Harbaugh said it's time to call Levine a corner because he deserves it.
It's time to click open our weekend Baltimore Ravens Twitter mailbag ...

@jamisonhensley: No chance. The difference between Reed and the Brett Keisel and James Harrison pickups is those Steelers defenders still showed flashes they could play last season. In 2013, Reed was nowhere close to being the ball hawk who struck fear into quarterbacks for more than a decade. Remember when he misplayed the ball on Joe Flacco 's 66-yard touchdown bomb in Baltimore last year? It says a lot that the Houston Texans decided to part ways with Reed 10 weeks into the season after giving him $6 million guaranteed. As I've written previously, Reed should come back to the Ravens. But it should only be to sign a one-day contract with the team so he can retire as a Raven.

@jamisonhensley: Reed will go down as one of the more underrated leaders in Ravens history. Ray Lewis was the face of the franchise and did his pregame schtick in the huddle for all of the cameras to see each week. But Reed was an influential leader behind the scenes. Many in that locker room considered him their big brother. That being said, the Ravens shouldn't bring him back in any kind of mentor/coaching capacity. Reed is too much of a loose cannon. While he'll go down as one of the top three players to ever suit up for the Ravens, he'll also be remembered as one of the biggest headaches in franchise history. In his last three years with the Ravens, Reed publicly called out Flacco for being rattled in a playoff game, refused to show up for a mandatory minicamp (and then taunted team officials via Twitter about it) and was among the dissenting voices when coach John Harbaugh announced the team was going to have a full-contact practice during the bye week in 2012. The Ravens will undoubtedly put Reed in their Ring of Honor. They just don't want him anywhere near their locker room on a daily basis.

@jamisonhensley: It honestly can't have a negative effect. After getting shredded by Ben Roethlisberger for six touchdown passes, the Ravens' secondary had hit rock bottom. Getting rid of Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown and adding Danny Gorrer and Tramain Jacobs is an improvement, but not a significant one. Gorrer is coming from a Detroit Lions pass defense that ranks No. 5 in the NFL, and Franks was out of football for the first five weeks of the season. But this is still one of the weakest secondaries in the league. The Ravens are good enough defensively to beat Zach Mettenberger, Blake Bortles and Ryan Mallett. But they'll struggle when they have to face a quarterback the caliber of Drew Brees.

@jamisonhensley: There are a couple of reasons for it. Brown, a second-round pick in 2013, didn't play right away because it was a big transition going from Kansas State's defense to an NFL one. Kansas State played so basic that Brown's learning curve with the Ravens was extremely steep. There are no such excuses this year. The expectation was for Brown to compete for Daryl Smith's starting job, but Brown was behind Josh Bynes on the depth chart throughout training camp. Brown is fast and athletic. He's just not big and strong. There are too many times when he couldn't shed blocks. Brown did play his first game of the season last Sunday, and the Ravens were very complimentary of his performance. They said he earned his way onto the field by the way he's practiced recently. Still, you want more than a good special-teams player when you draft someone No. 56 overall.

@jamisonhensley: You would get no argument from me. Cornerback is obvious, given the Ravens' lack of depth there. The Ravens need a young corner who can be the No. 3 corner next year and eventually take over for Lardarius Webb. There's a need at wide receiver because Steve Smith turns 36 next year and no one has really stepped up this year. Some would argue that safety should be high on the list. But the Ravens invested a first-round pick in Matt Elam and a third-rounder in Terrence Brooks. They will give both another year to prove themselves.

@jamisonhensley: It's difficult because all of the good defensive backs are usually taken early in the draft, much like quarterbacks. There aren't many instances of landing an impact cornerback or safety in later rounds outside of Richard Sherman (fifth round). The Ravens have actually done well finding cornerbacks when they use high picks on them. They took Jimmy Smith late in the first round and Webb in the third round. The problem is, the Ravens haven't used a high pick on a cornerback recently. That's why you see the Ravens missing on Brown (fifth round in 2011), Asa Jackson (fifth round in 2012) and Marc Anthony (seventh round in 2013). As far as the safety position, the Ravens have invested higher picks in Elam (first round in 2013) and Brooks (third round in 2014). Elam has struggled mightily at times, although he has forced some key turnovers this season. Brooks hasn't developed as quickly as expected, but he has the potential to be the starting free safety for the future. So the Ravens will give Elam and Brooks another shot next season before writing them off.
When Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Markus Wheaton for a 47-yard touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh's 43-23 win, it was yet another example of how teams continue to test the Baltimore Ravens with the deep pass.

This isn't just a recent occurrence. Quarterbacks have been looking for the big play against the Ravens ever since Ed Reed stopped patrolling their secondary. Call it the Reed aftereffect.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton, Darian Stewart
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Pittsburgh Steelers exposed the Baltimore Ravens on big pass plays Sunday, something that teams have done since Ed Reed left.
For all of the risk-taking and freelancing that Reed did, he struck fear in quarterbacks because of his ability to pick off passes and return them for touchdowns. But there has been no second-guessing for passers these days when throwing deep against the likes of Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks or whoever else the Ravens line up in the back end.

For comparison:

  • In Reed's 11 seasons, the Ravens allowed 19 completions (tied for the eighth-fewest) and eight touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 40 yards in the air.
  • In 25 games without him, the Ravens have given up 12 such throws (most in the NFL in that span) and six touchdowns (tied for the most).

This isn't to suggest the Ravens should bring back Reed. He showed last season with Houston and the New York Jets that he's not close to being the same playmaker. There's little chance that Reed is going to make a James Harrison-type comeback.

But the Ravens do have to find some solution to stop the deep throws. This season against the Ravens, quarterbacks are 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) on passes of 40 yards or longer for a perfect passer rating (158.3).

And these big plays have come at critical times for the Ravens. There was the 77-yard winning touchdown catch by Bengals receiver A.J. Green in the season opener, and a 53-yard reception by Mohamed Sanu that set up the winning touchdown Oct. 26 in Cincinnati.

The Ravens have tried to find the right combination. Seven players have lined up at safety this season, and five have been on the field for at least 90 defensive snaps.

"The best players play, to me, and the best players are the players who are playing the best," coach John Harbaugh said. "When some player expresses himself as being the best player by how he plays, he’ll be out there permanently. Until that happens, nobody is given anything."

Elam and Stewart are strong safeties who play better when closer to the line of scrimmage. Brooks, a rookie third-round pick, is better in coverage but was inactive Sunday against the Steelers, a week after giving up that pass to Sanu. And Will Hill, who made his first start Sunday, hasn't made the immediate impact that some anticipated.

Harbaugh said his defensive backs aren't being as disciplined with their technique as they need to be. Their eyes aren't in the right spot. They've misplayed balls. They've missed tackles.

"We’re looking for the right combination, but I think that’s a little overrated," Harbaugh said. "I think it’s the best players. You want to play in that secondary? Step up and practice and play well and step up in the game and make plays and be in the right spot. And that’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- One of the more underrated reasons why the Baltimore Ravens are in first place in the AFC North is the immediate contributions made by their young players.

The Ravens' rookies have played a total of 1,295 snaps in the first seven games of the season. That ranks as the eighth-most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those seven teams ahead of the Ravens, only two (the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers) drafted after the Ravens in the 2014 draft.

Mosley
Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, a first-round pick, is a leading candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year and is the only defender in the league to record at least 60 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (second round), safety Terrence Brooks (third round) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (third round) are playing at least 20 snaps each in supporting roles.

Guard John Urschel (fifth round) has started the past two games in place of the injured Kelechi Osemele, and others have had their moments as well. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth round) gained 91 yards rushing in Week 3, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (seventh round) scored a touchdown on his first career catch two weeks ago.

The only players from this year's draft class who haven't played a down for the Ravens are defensive end Brent Urban (fourth round), who is on injured reserve, and quarterback Keith Wenning (sixth round), who is on the practice squad.

It's not just the draft class that is making an impact. Two undrafted rookies -- offensive tackle James Hurst and linebacker Zachary Orr -- have stepped up for the Ravens, too.

Hurst became the first undrafted rookie to start at left tackle in Ravens history, filling in for the injured Eugene Monroe for the past four weeks. Orr has been one of the Ravens' core special-teams players. Of the Ravens' 18 special-teams tackles this season, seven have come from rookies. The Ravens have had an undrafted rookie make their season-opening roster in 11 consecutive years, which is tied for the third-longest current streak in the NFL.

In last Sunday's victory over the Atlanta Falcons, nine of the 46 players who suited up for the Ravens were rookies. In comparison, there were a combined nine players from the 2012 and 2013 draft classes who played last Sunday.

For the season, rookies have accounted for 12.9 percent of the snaps on offense and defense.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- It's not an injury issue any longer for Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. In order for him to get back on the field, he has to prove to coach John Harbaugh that he's in better shape.

Webb
A lower back injury sidelined Webb for the entire preseason and the first two games of the regular season. But, after looking stiff in his first game back on Sept. 21, he was a healthy scratch for Sunday's 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.

The Ravens are paying Webb $205,882 per week whether he's active or not. Harbaugh said he'll have a good idea by the end of the week whether Webb will be ready to play at Indianapolis, but he won't reveal Webb's availability until Sunday.

"It could very well be this week," Harbaugh said about Webb showing improved acceleration. "I'm sure hoping this week. I want to see it this week."

With Webb out, the Ravens started Asa Jackson alongside Jimmy Smith and moved Matt Elam from strong safety to nickelback in passing situations. It's important for the Ravens to get back Webb for the Colts, who've gone with at least three wide receivers on 164 snaps (ninth-most in the NFL).

"It'll be based on how he practices and how he looks, just in terms of getting his acceleration and his burst back," Harbaugh said. "The things that everybody saw that weren't quite there. Then, he tells me that he's healthy now and he says he feels healthy. It's just a matter of that strength, quickness and burst, which should come back fast. Anybody that's ever trained, if you've been in great shape, you get back into shape pretty quickly."

When Elam covered the slot receiver, rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks got his first defensive snaps of the season Sunday. He played 35 snaps and held up well in coverage. Harbaugh was impressed with Brooks' ball skills.

"He plays fast and has got a good sense for the ball back there," Harbaugh said. "He played well and merits more playing time."
The Baltimore Ravens' draft class placed two players on Mel Kiper Jr.'s projected 2014 All-Rookie team Insider.

Mosley
Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Terrence Brooks made the cut on a team where a selection can be based on opportunity more than talent.

Mosley was an obvious choice because he is a candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year. He joined the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ryan Shazier as Kiper's inside linebackers.

Brooks was more of a surprise for the fact that he isn't a starting safety. He saw time at nickelback with the first-team defense in the preseason, but he will likely give way to Asa Jackson at that spot when the regular season begins.

If Kiper puts together a team at the end of the season, there's a good chance Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will be on it. The second-round pick is the primary backup to Haloti Ngata after being very disruptive in training camp.

The Ravens were among eight teams that had multiple selections to Kiper's All-Rookie team.
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. -- Two weeks ago, rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks was buried on the depth chart and was already called "a disappointment" on a local sports talk show. Flash forward to Saturday night when Brooks was playing with the first-team defense, making an interception (which was negated by penalty) and running down Robert Griffin III for a sack.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Brooks
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrence Brooks, the Ravens' rookie third-round pick, says he's learned what he needs to do to be successful on the field.
Brooks came to the Ravens with the reputation for being the fastest safety in the draft. The speed by which he has picked up the Ravens' system recently has been just as impressive.

"It was kind of slow for a while," coach John Harbaugh said of Brooks' development. "He just wasn't showing that he understood what he was doing. But I think the light came on two weeks ago football-wise. Now, it's really starting to show up with the way he's playing. That gets me fired up."

Brooks was drafted as a free safety, but he's made his impact as a nickelback. With all of the injuries at cornerback, Brooks has stepped up to cover the slot receiver for the starting defense.

He showed great anticipation in jumping in front of Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson for an interception deep in Ravens' territory, a turnover that was negated by a penalty on Dominique Franks. Brooks then forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal in the red zone when he chased down RG III for a sack.

"I've been able to eliminate the clutter so my attitude is, it's just football," Brooks said. "I just need to do the things I've been doing and get more comfortable. I really feel I've taken the steps to do that."

Asked specifically about the "clutter," Brooks said, "Just thinking too much and not playing. I've learned you can't let things get to you and worry about things. My mindset now is they have to beat me. That's the big thing I'm really harping on."

During offseason workouts and the start of training camp, Brooks was playing safety on the third-team defense.

Then, Harbaugh said he noticed how Brooks seemed more sure about his assignments. Brooks suddenly knew what he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to be.

"For him to jump up the last two weeks the way he has is kind of surprising," Harbaugh said. "It seems like it's usually slower going with that position."

There is still a learning curve for Brooks. In the fourth quarter Saturday, he committed a pass interference penalty and later gave up a touchdown.

With the starters not playing in the preseason finale, Brooks will see a lot of playing time Thursday night in New Orleans.

"If he flies around and does the right thing and plays fast like that," Harbaugh said, "that would be a real good sign for us."
The Baltimore Ravens blog won't be giving out a report card until the regular-season opener, but our friends at Pro Football Focus are handing out grades for the Ravens' third preseason game against Washington ...

HIGHEST-GRADED RAVENS

Brandon Williams (4.2): The starting nose tackle was a factor in both the run and pass games. Williams tied for the team lead with five tackles, including two for loss, and delivered a quarterback hit. These aren't the types of numbers you'd expect from a nose tackle.

Rick Wagner (2.1): When watching the game the first time, it looked like Wagner was manhandled by Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Upon further review, Wagner actually held his own except for one sack. For the season, he's the highest-graded starting offensive lineman for the Ravens.

Elvis Dumervil (1.9): The outside linebacker was around the ball, making three tackles and a sack in just 16 snaps. Dumervil is known for getting to the quarterback, but he showed good pursuit in the run game.

Nicholas DiMarco (1.8): This was all for naught. DiMarco, who signed after a minicamp tryout in June, is reportedly among the first cuts by the Ravens.

Anthony Levine (1.8): This rating is even more impressive when you consider this was Levine's first game at cornerback. Levine made the switch from safety because the Ravens are shorthanded at corner. His best play was running stride for stride with Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

LOWEST-GRADED RAVENS

Parker Graham (-3.5): It was a disaster when Graham had to fill in for Jah Reid at right tackle with the second team. This comes after Graham was the lowest-rated Ravens player in the second preseason game.

Crockett Gillmore (-2.5): The third-round pick slipped and was unable to make the catch on a long throw from Joe Flacco. He also got beat to the inside in pass protection, which led to Flacco getting hit.

Terrence Brooks (-2.3): After a strong opening drive, the rookie third-round pick made two big mistakes in the fourth quarter. Brooks was penalized for pass interference and then allowed a touchdown five plays later.

Lorenzo Taliaferro (-2.3): The NFL's leading rusher after two preseason games, Taliaferro struggled to gain 25 yards on 11 carries (2.3-yard average). His longest run was 5 yards.

John Urschel (-1.7): The fifth-round pick is battling Ryan Jensen for one of the last spots on the team. He was graded as the second-worst run-blocker against the Redskins.

Bernard Pierce (-1.7): It was a rough night even before Pierce suffered a head injury. He finished with minus-3 yards on four carries. Pierce also continues to be a liability in pass protection.

Ravens' preseason stock watch

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
10:50
AM ET
Here's a look at who is rising and falling after the third preseason game:

FALLING

Pass protection. Quarterback Joe Flacco was under pressure more against the Redskins than his first two preseason games combined. He was sacked twice and hit a total of five times. But, after watching the game again, it wasn't entirely the fault of the offensive line. Of those five hits on Flacco, only two came as a result of an offensive lineman getting beaten (right tackle Rick Wagner and left guard Kelechi Osemele). The others came off poor blocks by running back Bernard Pierce, tight end Crockett Gillmore and the receivers not getting separation (Flacco had to hold onto the ball too long). Either way, the Ravens can't allow that many shots to Flacco in the one half.

Bernard Pierce. He showed he is a legitimate NFL runner again in the first two preseason games, when he averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The biggest concern remains his durability, which became an issue when Pierce left the first quarter Saturday night with a head injury. While he says he's fine, the Ravens need Pierce to be at full strength when he is filling in for Ray Rice as the starting running back for the first two weeks of the regular season. In Pierce's two-year career, h has been on the injury report for 10 weeks for back, ankle, knee, thigh and toe issues.

Owen Daniels. The Ravens' No. 2 tight end has missed the past two preseason games with leg fatigue. The Ravens insist that Daniels isn't injured, but this raises a red flag especially after he broke his leg last year. I've never seen a situation quite like this one in my 14 years of covering the team. Luckily for the Ravens, fullback Kyle Juszczyk (five catches for 53 yards last game) is emerging as a weapon in the passing game. He plays like a tight end in many ways and can lessen the blow if Daniels can't be counted upon.

RISING

Joe Flacco in the two-minute drill. Flacco has been at his best late in the first half in each of the past two preseason games. In those two-minute drills, he has completed 11 of 14 passes for 121 yards. Those drives resulted in a total of 10 points. With Flacco in a new system, it wouldn't have been a surprise if he struggled in the hurry-up situations. Instead, he has excelled when forced to make quicker decisions.

Rookies on defense. If this last game is any indication, the Ravens' top three draft picks will make an immediate impact. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (first round) made an interception off a deflected pass, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (second round) had two quarterback hits including a sack of Robert Griffin III and defensive back Terrence Brooks had an interception (which was negated) and a sack as the nickelback with the first-team defense. All three are athletic and have a knack for being around the ball.

Brandon Williams. The first-year starting nose tackle is more than a space-eater. He is making plays and doing so in critical situations. In the preseason opener, Williams made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-one at the Ravens' 6-yard line to force a field goal. Last Saturday, he again made a stop behind the line in the red zone. A third-round pick from a year ago, Williams is the reason why no one is talking about the Ravens missing Arthur Jones, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency.

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