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Two targets, one mountain: Lamar Jackson is Ravens’ big draft winner – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson recently let coach John Harbaugh know his reaction to his team’s draft, though it wasn’t extensive.

Harbaugh described Jackson as a “short texter.”

“I’ve gotten his thoughts, but it’s the brief version. He’s excited,” Harbaugh said during last weekend’s rookie minicamp. “I think Lamar, as much as anything, is thinking about doing what he can do so he can be the best that he can be, and then as a quarterback, work all these other guys into it from a chemistry standpoint. He can’t wait to get back, and I can’t wait to see him here.”

Jackson’s commentary was short, but it’s undeniable he was the big winner in the Ravens’ 2021 draft. Baltimore continued to bulk up on offense with early draft picks, adding two savvy wide receivers who know how to get open, as well as one of the draft’s mountainous blockers in the first four rounds.

The drafting of polished route runners Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace along with 6-foot-6, 357-pound guard Ben Cleveland provides more weapons and protection for Jackson, who is looking to take the next step as a passer and improve Baltimore’s chances of reaching the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

NFL history says it’s difficult to consistently make the postseason with an inconsistent passing attack. Last season, the Ravens became the fourth team — and the first since the 2003 Ravens — to finish last in the league in passing and qualify for the postseason since the NFL expanded to 12 playoff teams in 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bateman, the No. 27 overall pick in this year’s draft, has watched Jackson from afar and hopes to meet him soon.

“It’s a blessing to be his teammate,” Bateman said. “I’m just excited to get to work with him, so I can connect with him, learn how this offense goes, and hopefully, we can chase a Super Bowl and just continue to be us.”

ESPN’s Todd McShay called Bateman the most NFL-ready route runner. In 2019, Bateman averaged 20.3 yards per reception at Minnesota, the best mark by a Big Ten player in 18 years. But his stock fell after he was infected with COVID-19 during the summer and opted out of the 2020 season after five games.

Harbaugh praised the first impression made by Bateman, referring to him as a quick learner and a “no-nonsense guy.” Pro Football Focus believes Bateman is the type of alpha receiver who can get open at will — which is what Jackson needs.

“[He’s] everything we thought he would be, in terms of the athleticism and the skill set,” Harbaugh said. “That’s usually the case, but not always the case. What you see is not always what you get, and you don’t know until you get them out there in, really, the first rookie minicamp. I would say that he is as advertised from a talent standpoint.”

Like Bateman, Wallace won’t wow many with his athleticism. He just knows how to shake defenders and get the ball. McShay called Wallace his favorite pick by the Ravens. He had projected Wallace as a second-round selection.

Wallace fell to the fourth round (19th wide receiver taken) because of a disappointing pro day (sub-par vertical and broad jumps), which led some to speculate he was still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in 2019. That overshadowed his production at Oklahoma State, where his 922 yards in 2020 led the Big 12 and his 1.1% drop rate ranked second best in the FBS.

During rookie minicamp, Wallace caught everything within his grasp. The biggest challenge was pacing himself.

“I was really nervous, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing when I got out there,” Wallace said after his first day of rookie minicamp practice. “So, I’m trying my best to get into the playbook and learn it as best I can. I think the hard part for me is knowing when to put it down, for sure.”

Jackson should have more time to throw the ball to Bateman and Wallace because of Georgia guard Cleveland, who was selected in the third round.

With Cleveland listed as the Ravens’ largest player by weight, his size will fit nicely in Baltimore’s rugged running game. But he was also a capable pass protector.

Over the past two seasons, Cleveland’s pass block success rate (four pressures on 473 pass blocks) was the best by a right guard in the SEC. He didn’t allow a pressure in seven of his nine games against a ranked opponent over that span.

The biggest question with Baltimore’s offensive line is whether Cleveland will win the starting job at left guard. But lining up right away for a line that includes two Pro Bowl players (Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva) and the team’s most expensive free-agent signing (Kevin Zeitler) isn’t Cleveland’s primary concern.

“Right now, really and truly just focused on getting in sync with these new guys and learning this playbook,” Cleveland said. “You can’t go play fast until you know what you’re doing. [I’m] not really thinking ahead to fall [training] camp and that starting job. Obviously, that’s the goal for this year, but that can’t happen until I get the playbook down and learn my assignments.”

The Ravens are looking to avoid becoming the first team to finish last in the NFL in passing in back-to-back seasons since the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998 and 1999 (which coincidentally was where Harbaugh spent his first two seasons in the league).

Baltimore believes the upgraded supporting cast will stretch the field, as much horizontally as vertically. Last season, Jackson’s 94 completions outside the numbers were 27th in the league.

“This offense is really one that runs through Lamar, and we’re always going to do what gives us the best chance to win,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “When you add talent like that, it’s really, I think, going to kind of expand our profile quite a bit, actually, to play with the kind of balance that we really want to play with. The field is about 53 yards wide, and I think people are going to have to defend all 53 yards of it.”

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Philip Rivers says he’s ‘staying ready,’ won’t close door on possible NFL return

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Months after he announced his retirement from the NFL, former quarterback Philip Rivers says he isn’t ruling out a return.

Rivers, who retired in January after one season with the Indianapolis Colts following 16 with the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he is staying in shape in case a situation presents itself for a late-season stint in the NFL.

“I’m not quite there,” Rivers, 39, told the LA Times. “I’m getting back there. I wouldn’t have made weight if I had to report last week, that’s for sure. But I am getting back into the lifting and running, and shoot, I occasionally throw a ball around out here in this heat. It’s not too hard to get a good lather going.

“I’m just going to stay ready. I want to make sure I’m very clear: I’m not predicting I will play in December or January, for that matter. One, you’ve got to have somebody who wants you, and two, it’s got to be right.

“But I have not completely ruled that out.”

Rivers, a five-time Pro Bowler who ranks fifth in NFL history with 63,440 passing yards, led the Colts to the playoffs last season, throwing for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns. Indianapolis lost to Buffalo in an AFC wild-card game.

The Colts announced Monday that quarterback Carson Wentz will have surgery on his injured left foot and be out five to 12 weeks.

Rivers currently is in his first year as head football coach of St. Michael Catholic High School in Alabama. According to maxpreps.com, the team’s final regular-season game is scheduled for Oct. 29, which is Week 8 of the NFL season.

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Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf is concerned over players’ vaccine hesitancy; three QBs on the COVID-19 reserve list

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EAGAN, Minn. — While the Minnesota Vikings continue navigating a recent COVID-19 interruption within the quarterback room, team co-owner Mark Wilf expressed concern over vaccine hesitancy among players.

“We’re very concerned,” Wilf said. “I think it’s safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community. From that standpoint, we really are encouraging people to take the vaccines, to get vaccinated.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve partnered with the State of Minnesota to have our facility here used as a vaccination center in the offseason. We just want everybody to follow the protocols. We’re trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations. Of course with the delta variant and other new permutations going on, we just want to make sure to preserve the health and safety. That’s the standpoint that we come from as ownership and as an organization.”

The Vikings are without quarterbacks Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend, Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley — the latter two were deemed high-risk close contacts and required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days. All three QBs and wide receiver Myron Mitchell were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.

According to the NFL/NFLPA protocols, a player with the “high-risk close contact” classification designates that they are not vaccinated. Coach Mike Zimmer has been outspoken about his frustration with players who are refusing to get vaccinated and foreshadowed the stark reality the Vikings are “going to have guys miss some games, and we have to be prepared for it.”

“I talked to the team and, like I said before, there are quite a few guys that are just against it,” Zimmer said on Monday. “I’m not going to be able to change their mind, so, it’s like half the country, I guess.”

The Vikings’ vaccine hesitancy is reflected in vaccination efforts leaguewide. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the NFL, with 64.5% of players fully vaccinated and 70% in process (with at least one shot). The Washington Football Team has dealt with similar interruptions during training camp, with six players currently on the COVID-19/reserve list, but saw its vaccination rate escalate 24% in one week from 60% to 84% of its players being at least partially vaccinated, according to the report.

The NFL announced Tuesday that 90% of players across the league are either fully vaccinated or have had at least one shot. Nine teams are above 95%, and 27 teams have reached the 85% threshold.

The competitive advantage that teams with higher vaccination rates could have this season is not lost on Vikings players, coaches and ownership. On his All Things Covered podcast, cornerback Patrick Peterson noted the importance of getting vaccinated so he doesn’t put himself at risk of missing games thanks to COVID-19 protocols.

“I feel like I’m too important to this team not to get vaccinated, not miss an important game and now we possibly lose that game, and that could be the game that we needed to get into the playoffs,” Peterson said.

Wilf noted the potential for low vaccination rates to lead to a competitive disadvantage and praised Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman for the way they’ve approached the situation in Minnesota.

“The competitive side is of course concerning but, again, our focus is on health and safety,” Wilf said. “We care about the players and the team and, from that standpoint, they happen to be aligned. But the fact is, we’re encouraging vaccinations. We’re talking about a serious health pandemic, and it’s something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they’re fully informed of what’s involved here. From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this is the right way — in terms of making sure we provide the resources, as ownership, that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts.”

The Vikings signed quarterbacks Case Cookus and Danny Etling on Monday after Jake Browning was Minnesota’s only quarterback available following the COVID-19 interruption. Browning is vaccinated.

Zimmer said Monday that he did not know when Mond, Cousins or Stanley would be available to return. Because Mond tested positive, his return is subject to different protocols.

According to NFL/NFLPA guidelines, a player on the COVID-19/reserve list who tests positive and is asymptomatic can return to practice 10 days after showing symptoms, or five days after initially testing positive, with two consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours within a five-day period. Symptomatic players can return 10 days after first testing positive and at least 72 hours after their last symptoms occurred.

“It is a tough circumstance for [Mond],” offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. “We’ll make the best of it, keep challenging him in our virtual meetings. He’s done a great job with that, staying prepared. Mainly, I just want to make sure he’s OK. He’s got COVID — he’s sick. We’ve got to get him healthy first. But when he gets back, we’ll get him back physically. In the meantime, we can stress him mentally and make it hard for him so that it’s just all physical when he gets back.”

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Minnesota Vikings release CB Jeff Gladney after he is indicted on felony assault charge

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The Minnesota Vikings released cornerback Jeff Gladney on Tuesday after he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on a charge of felony assault against a woman he was previously in a relationship with.

“Following our review of today’s indictment against Jeff Gladney, we have decided to release Jeff immediately. As we have previously said, we take these matters very seriously and condemn all forms of domestic violence. Due to the ongoing legal nature of this matter, we are unable to provide further comment,” the team said in a statement.

Gladney, 24, who was a first-round draft pick last year out of TCU, started 15 games for the Vikings as a rookie. He had not been around the team since his arrest in April in Dallas.

He is charged with domestic violence by impeding breathing, for “intentionally, knowingly and recklessly” causing bodily injury and applying pressure to the woman’s neck and throat, according to the indictment. The altercation grew out of an argument and took place over a span of more than two hours, according to a lawsuit recently filed against Gladney by the former girlfriend. She also alleged in the suit that he tried to bribe her and intimidate her into keeping quiet.

No court date has been scheduled yet. If he is convicted, the cornerback could serve up to 10 years in prison.

Earlier Tuesday, Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf called the allegations against Gladney “very disturbing and something that’s concerning to us as ownership and to our organization.”

Gladney’s agent Brian Overstreet said in a statement released to NFL Network that he was disappointed by the Vikings’ decision.

“It’s a good thing that innocent until proven guilty still exists in this country,” Overstreet said. “Unfortunately, the Vikings don’t view it the same way.”

Overstreet called the indictment “a normal step in the judicial process” and explained the case is headed for a trial but is not an indication of Gladney’s guilt or innocence.

“We received information that the complaining witness in this case came forward and requested the case not be prosecuted,” Overstreet said. “The Vikings did what they thought was best for their organization which we respect, but we still strongly believe in Jeff Gladney’s innocence. We look forward to his day in court so that he can clear his name. At this time, out of respect for the legal process and all parties involved, Jeff and his representatives will have no further comments.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the league office “will continue to review this serious and concerning matter under the personal conduct policy” and will monitor all legal developments.

Gladney is now an unrestricted free agent. If he were to be signed by another club, he could be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while the case against him moves toward completion. In 2014, the NFL toughened its personal conduct policy to include a baseline six-game suspension without pay for violations involving domestic violence and other related crimes.

ESPN’s Courtney Cronin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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