The Baltimore Ravens will play at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday afternoon because of 10 days of positive tests for COVID-19, three postponements and the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.
This is so 2020. Actually, it’s more like 2012.
Instead of Lamar Jackson throwing passes to Mark Andrews, a national television audience (3:40 ET, NBC) will watch Robert Griffin III tossing the ball to Dez Bryant. It was eight years ago when Griffin was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Bryant caught 92 passes. Now, they’re being asked to step up and help the Ravens upset the NFL’s only undefeated team.
One of the largest outbreaks in professional sports has decimated the Baltimore roster. The Ravens currently have 16 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which includes six Pro Bowl players and the reigning NFL MVP in Jackson.
“It’s never about who’s not playing,” Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon said at the start of the outbreak before he tested positive. “It’s always about who is playing.”
So, who exactly is playing for Baltimore?
As of Tuesday night, the Ravens will have at least 10 different starters from their season-opening game. There could be as many as 10 different players on the active 48-man game-day roster. Baltimore could be calling up seven or eight practice squad players just hours before kickoff.
Here is a look at what the game-day roster might look like:
Quarterback: Griffin, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley (practice squad). Griffin, 30, makes his second start in four years. In last season’s finale, he knocked off the Steelers with a less-than stellar performance while many Ravens starters rested. Griffin was 11-of-21 passes for 96 yards and one interception. If McSorley is unable to play, the primary backup is Huntley, an undrafted rookie who went 23-10 at Utah. With no preseason games this year, Huntley has yet to take a snap in an NFL game.
Running back: Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Mark Ingram, Justice Hill. Dobbins and Ingram are expected to be activated off the COVID-19 list before the game, but it’s likely neither will play. Dobbins, who was positioned to take over as the top back, hasn’t practiced since testing positive on Nov. 22. The expectation is Edwards will get a majority of the carries. He has totaled 217 yards rushing in his past two games against Pittsburgh.
Wide receiver: Marquise Brown, Bryant, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche. One of worst producing wide receiver groups lost its most consistent player, Willie Snead, who tested positive over the weekend. Brown, who was supposed to Baltimore’s No. 1 wide receiver, has totaled six catches in the past four games. Bryant led all Ravens wide receivers last game with four receptions for 28 yards. Could Bryant become Baltimore’s X factor?
Tight end: Luke Willson (PS), Sean Culkin (PS), Eric Tomlinson (PS). The Ravens lost their top two tight ends, Andrews (tested positive) and Nick Boyle (season-ending knee injury), over the past two weeks, along with their Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard (tested positive). That leaves Baltimore with three practice squad tight ends who have combined for 10 catches over the past two seasons.
Offensive line: Orlando Brown Jr., Tyre Phillips, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, D.J. Fluker, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Ben Bredeson, Jake Rodgers, R.J. Prince (PS). The Ravens’ top two centers, Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura, are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Baltimore’s options to replace them are either Bozeman, who has never started an NFL game at center, or Colon-Castillo, an undrafted rookie who has yet to play one NFL snap. Either way, this will mark the sixth different starting offensive line combination this season.
Defensive line: Derek Wolfe, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington, Aaron Crawford (PS). This has been the position hardest hit by the coronavirus. Three defensive linemen, including Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. With Brandon Williams ruled out due to an ankle injury, that leaves Wolfe as the only remaining starter, along with a former Raiders fourth-round pick (Ellis) and a rookie fifth-round pick (Washington) who has played 46 snaps this season.
Outside linebacker: Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Aaron Adeoye (PS), Chauncey Rivers (PS). Baltimore is without its two leaders in quarterback hits, Judon (17) and Pernell McPhee (11), both of whom are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Bowser and Ferguson, who have combined for 13 quarterback hits, will replace them. The bigger issue is whether they can set the edge like Judon and McPhee do against the run.
Cornerback: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tramon Williams, Davontae Harris, Pierre Desir (PS), Nate Hairston (PS), Nate Brooks (PS). The only concern is whether Smith, who is questionable with ankle and back injuries, will play. It’s injuries, not the coronavirus, that have taken a toll on this position. Baltimore has five cornerbacks on injured reserve.
Safety: Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, Nigel Warrior (PS). Rookie safety Geno Stone tested positive Tuesday. He has played two games this season and played only on special teams.
Special teams: Justin Tucker (K), Sam Koch (P) and Nick Moore (LS/PS). This marks the first time in six years that Morgan Cox, who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, will not be Baltimore’s long-snapper. The Ravens made a smart move carrying Moore, a former member of the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers, on the practice squad all season.
‘More rejuvenated than ever,’ Cameron Jordan key to Saints’ life after Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints Blog
MOBILE, Ala. — New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan took pride in being the only active player inducted into the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame on Wednesday, while crediting the “OGs” he shared the stage with — Reggie Wayne, Patrick Surtain Sr., Joe Staley and Fred Taylor.
But Jordan, who ranks second in Saints history with 94.5 career sacks through 10 seasons, is more focused on unfinished business than being reflective.
“I’m more hungry now than ever,” said Jordan, who pointed out that he and his father, former Minnesota Vikings great tight end Steve Jordan, have a total of 23 seasons and 12 Pro Bowl selections between them with zero Super Bowls.
“So this is something that I’m chasing,” said Jordan, who turns 32 in July. “Year  is really Year 1 starting back up again. Ten years behind me, ten years ahead of me. … I’m more rejuvenated than ever before.”
Jordan has to lead that charge now. With Drew Brees retiring and the Saints releasing longtime punter Thomas Morstead this offseason, Jordan is now the longest-tenured player in New Orleans.
— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) June 24, 2021
When Jordan arrived as a first-round draft choice out of Cal in 2011, he was joining an established Super Bowl winner loaded with superstar talent. At the time, it felt like a matter of “how soon and how many” titles he would win in New Orleans.
Now, it has become a glaring “if” after so many gut-wrenching playoff exits. And Jordan has to help the Saints shape a new identity without Brees at the helm for the first time in 16 years.
It’s a role he has grown to embrace.
“This has been my same role the last seven years since we had that big excavation back in ’14,” Jordan said, referring to the Saints parting ways with defensive standouts Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, before Jenkins returned in 2020. “Guys were looking up to me, and then I didn’t know how to truly handle it. I was just young enough where I was trying to figure out my own way as well.
“But then the last seven years, it’s been the young bucks coming in … and they’re looking to learn and take everything from you in terms of the knowledge that you have to give. You have to be able to disperse that knowledge and you have to be able to push them.”
First-round draft choice Payton Turner, a fellow defensive end who was on hand for Jordan’s ceremony, said he definitely sees Jordan as a face of the franchise after watching him thrive on TV for years and then seeing how much respect Jordan has from everyone in the building.
“You can tell that he’s got that aura around him, just kind of that leader’s mentality,” Turner said. “I think that’s been really good for me to be around.”
Jordan is well aware that he has to keep delivering at an elite level on the field, too. And he insists that he still has plenty left in the tank despite his disappointing production in 2020 (just 7.5 sacks after a career-high 15.5 in 2019).
Jordan said part of the issue last season was how much he pressed while having zero sacks in the first three weeks. But he said he relaxed, reset and “loved the way I played” during the second half of the season.
Jordan has talked for years about studying the list of great defensive linemen who thrived in their 30s.
“You talk about Calais Campbell [who], after he turned 30, had his best year,” Jordan said. “Brandon Graham having his best years after he turned 30. I’ve talked to Bruce Smith and I’ve looked at Mike Strahan’s careers. These are the years where they really made strides for a push-off of being great. It’s like 30 to that 34, 35 era, that you see not only the combination of that physical talent but … [also] the wisdom play in. And that’s what I’ve really been excited about.”
Led by veterans such as Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis, as well as the emergence of young players such as CB Marshon Lattimore, DT David Onyemata and safeties Marcus Williams and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, New Orleans’ defense has quietly become a huge reason for the team’s success over the past four years (four straight NFC South titles and the league’s best regular-season record over that span).
The Saints rank top five in the NFL in both yards and points allowed since Week 3 of the 2017 season. They rank No. 1 in run defense — which has long been one of Jordan’s underrated specialties.
“I truly believe if we have a couple more turnovers on the defensive side, our offense will be nice — but we hopefully don’t need them,” Jordan said. “We hope we’re able to continue the defensive legacy we’ve been building the last three years.”
Jordan, who spent Tuesday afternoon hosting a pair of youth football camps, has also long embraced his role as a community leader.
Saints DE Cameron Jordan hosting a pair of youth football camps today to support the “18th ward” nonprofit, which was created as a way for kids from across the city to play together. pic.twitter.com/RIP7tAmVp2
— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) June 22, 2021
He has a prolific track record of community appearances on his “days off” during the season and recently joined an initiative focused on anti-racism and community engagement training for New Orleans police officers.
“I love my role here, I love how I’ve been embraced here,” Jordan said. “And I love finding love here — you know, I found my wife here, made kids here, connections. When you think about the community and what I’ve tried to do here for the last decade, it’s been nothing short of God’s work. The way that I’ve been blessed, I try to go out and bless other people.”
Pittsburgh Steelers release guard David DeCastro, agree to terms with Trai Turner
DeCastro was released with a non-football injury designation.
The Steelers later agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner on a one-year deal, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 31-year-old DeCastro has been battling ankle issues and is evaluating whether surgery is required, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, adding that retirement is a strong option for him.
He didn’t participate in minicamp recently. When asked a week ago about DeCastro, coach Mike Tomlin said, “If I thought injury circumstances or reasons why people were not participating were significant, I would share them with you.”
DeCastro was in the final year of his contract with a $14.2 million cap hit. Releasing him saves the Steelers $8.75 million in cap space. He was the Steelers’ first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2012 draft.
“David was without a doubt one of the premier offensive linemen during his time with us,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. “He helped us win a lot of football games, but it was David’s consistency, reliability and professionalism that stood out more than anything else. We wish him the best moving forward in his career.”
DeCastro missed the first two games of 2020 with lingering knee issues but appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s final 14 games.
With DeCastro’s release, the Steelers will have one returning starter on the offensive line: Chukwuma Okorafor, who is likely moving from last season’s spot on the right side to left tackle. Kevin Dotson also started for DeCastro a few times last season, but he’s slated to be the left guard.
The Los Angeles Chargers released Turner in March after first attempting to trade him. Turner, 28, was limited to nine games last season because of a groin injury, but he said recently he was “back at 100 percent.”
Turner had no guaranteed money left on a four-year, $45 million extension he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2017.
Turner was selected to five Pro Bowls in his first six NFL seasons. Chosen in the third round of the 2014 draft by Carolina, he has played in 93 career games with 89 starts.
ESPN’s Brooke Pryor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle says tight ends ‘do everything,’ deserve respect
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle feels it’s time to put some respect on his position. That’s why he made it a point to gather 49 NFL tight ends together for this week’s Tight End University.
The program, which Kittle is conducting along with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and former tight end Greg Olsen, began Wednesday and will continue through Friday in Nashville.
“100% it does,” Kittle told ESPN when asked if the way his position is being undervalued bothers him. “I think TE is the most unique and diverse position. It’s the most fun position because it’s the only one on the field where you get to do everything that a football player does. You run block, you pass pro, you get to run routes and catch the football. We do everything!”
Kittle said his position deserves a little more recognition, given how players such as himself, Kelce and others have become focal points of NFL offenses.
The group of tight ends at TEU got to share trade secrets in hopes of collectively helping each other sharpen their playmaking ability. The summit offered on-the-field workouts, film-study sessions and some evening activities.
“I’m a big believer that you surround yourself with good people which brings the best out of you. We’re sharing our strategy with guys. Our mindsets, how you approach the game. All of this is for the tight end position to take a step forward. I’m excited that we have such a great group of guys,” Kittle said.
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