Ravens news, notes and opinions on injured young players, restructured contracts and snap counts

Not only does it appear that defensive end Brent Urban’s season could be over because of the Lisfranc injury he suffered Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it’s hardly out of the question that his time with the Ravens might be as well.

And that’s a shame because the 2014 fourth-round draft pick was just starting to come into his own as an impact player.

Urban will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and presumably the Ravens will want to give Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley, third-round picks in each of the past two drafts, an opportunity at defensive end going forward.

But it would be foolish to close the door on Urban. Kaufusi and Wormley could both struggle, and Urban’s injury history — he’ll likely end up playing just 25 of 64 regular-season games for the Ravens over four seasons — could depress his market. However, you couldn’t blame the Ravens if they decided to go with younger, cheaper and more durable options.

I’ve written this before, but there’s been no bigger reason for the Ravens not making the playoffs in three of the past four years than the rash of significant injuries suffered by young players. It stalls a promising player’s development in a big way to miss part of a season, a full season or more.

The Ravens have certainly missed on more than a few draft picks in recent years and I’m not defending that. But how can you honestly predict that players such as Urban, Kaufusi, Breshad Perriman, Crockett Gillmore, Alex Lewis, Maxx Williams, Carl Davis, Tavon Young, Kenneth Dixon, Maurice Canady and Nico Siragusa — all drafted between 2014 to 2017 — were going to miss a full year or more while on their rookie contracts? Many of those guys were durable in their college careers.

Forget not having players available on gamedays. The injuries are far more damaging on a broader scale while trying to build a young core.

Adding insult to injury

Quietly, the Ravens have restructured the contracts of three veterans — kicker Justin Tucker, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson — in recent weeks after restructuring cornerback Jimmy Smith’s deal earlier this offseason.

Each time one of these restructures is revealed, fans ask who the Ravens are adding with the created salary cap space. If only it were that glamorous. One of the underreported dimensions of all these injuries is that it takes cap space to sign somebody to fill a roster spot when a player is placed on injured reserve.

The Ravens didn’t have the necessary cap space heading into the season to deal with all these injuries while maintaining cap flexibility. Thus, they’ve needed to do the restructures, something team officials prefer to avoid.

So not only are all the injuries affecting the team this year, but the restructures are affecting the cap space in future years. And that’s not a good thing as it was looking like the Ravens were going to be in pretty good shape with the cap as early as the 2018 offseason.

Making a choice?

Lost in the fallout from the poor performance against the Jaguars on Sunday was that Patrick Onwuasor played more snaps than Kamalei Correa by a significant margin (40 to 23) at weak-side linebacker for the first time this year.

The Ravens would prefer not to still be rotating these players near the quarter pole of the season. Neither player, however, has played well consistently enough to earn the job outright.

It will be interesting to see whether Onwuasor’s elevated snap count Sunday was a sign of things to come or just a function of the Ravens believing he was a better fit against the Jaguars.

More of Humphrey?

Speaking of elevated snap counts, rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey played 23 total snaps on defense and 14 on special teams, his most extensive action.

If I’m the Ravens, I’m thinking long and hard about having him on the field even more this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is not a slight against Brandon Carr by any means. The veteran has given up a few plays the past couple of weeks, but he’s otherwise been solid. But I like Humphrey’s ability to match up physically with Martavis Bryant and to make tackles on the perimeter against a physical, quick back such as Le’Veon Bell.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger will most likely go right after the rookie cornerback. The Jaguars’ Blake Bortles did that as well and Humphrey more than held his own.

While we’re talking corners, Jimmy Smith hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but he’s playing at a high level. It will be interesting to see whether defensive coordinator Dean Pees has him shadow Antonio Brown on Sunday.

Collins keeps pushing

I’ve always thought too much is made about who the team designates to start at running back. What matters is not who gets the first carry of the game, but which back is on the field when the game is hanging in the balance.

At this point, I’m not sure that it won’t soon be Alex Collins. On an offense that has slogged through much of the first three weeks of the season, Collins seems to bring more big-play ability and elusiveness. He seems more likely to make something out of nothing than Terrance West and Buck Allen.

Aside from West’s fumble Sunday — and yes, Collins has lost a fumble, too — the Ravens’ top two backs have been fine. But I think when you are facing a team such as the Steelers, who have struggled to stop the run, you have to see whether you can generate big plays in both the running and passing games. Collins might give you the best chance out of the backfield to do that.

And let’s be honest, the Ravens don’t have a dominant offensive line that’s going to consistently create holes you can drive tractors through. At times, the team is going to need its backs to create something out of nothing and pick up yards on their own. It’s only a limited sample size, but Collins has shown an ability to do that thus far.

Closing with five quick thoughts

1. I thought all along that if the Ravens were 3-2 heading into Week 6, they’d be in pretty good shape. They have to find a way to split the next two against the Steelers and at Oakland.

2. It amazes me that each week I’m still hearing from fans clamoring for the Ravens to pony up a good amount of cash to sign free-agent center Nick Mangold, a 33-year-old who has played in just one game since October.

3. Aside from the injuries, the Ravens’ biggest concern by far should be what a complete nonfactor wide receiver Breshad Perriman has become. This was billed as a make-or-break year for the 2015 first-round pick, and through three games he has one catch for 5 yards on nine total targets.

4. I was pretty shocked to discover that rush linebacker Terrell Suggs has gone six straight games without a sack against the Steelers.

5. The Ravens are living pretty dangerously having just three inside linebackers on gamedays, especially when you consider how big of a role Correa and Onwuasor play on special teams. The two played 50 combined special teams snaps against the Jaguars.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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