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Ravens roundtable: Answering questions about the Ravens’ next defensive coordinator, Lamar Jackson’s value and more

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Ravens roundtable: Answering questions about the Ravens’ next defensive coordinator, Lamar Jackson’s value and more

The first big move of the Ravens’ offseason came out of nowhere Friday night: Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is out after four years in Baltimore.

His departure adds yet another wrinkle to an offseason that could dramatically reshape the Ravens’ roster and set a new course for their future. After an injury-marred season ended short of the playoffs, the team faces questions about went wrong over its six-game losing streak, the defense’s disappointing year, quarterback Lamar Jackson’s future in Baltimore, the offense’s direction under coordinator Greg Roman and more.

As the wait for coach John Harbaugh’s season-ending news conference drags on, here’s what Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker and Jonas Shaffer and editor C.J. Doon make of the Ravens’ wild 2021 season and 2022 offseason.

The Ravens need a new defensive coordinator. Where should John Harbaugh look for Don “Wink” Martindale’s replacement?

Walker: The Ravens have almost always looked within when choosing their defense’s next designer, and it’s difficult to imagine Harbaugh straying too far outside the family. He has good options on his staff in Anthony Weaver and Chris Hewitt, both of whom have substantial legacies as NFL players and coaches, in addition to deep roots in the organization. The Ravens need to restock their defensive front, with an eye on more pass-rushing production, and Weaver qualifies as an expert on that subject. He coached for four other franchises before joining Harbaugh’s staff, so he would represent a bridge between stability and fresh ideas. The Ravens would generate more buzz by bringing Mike Macdonald back from Michigan, but if understated reform is Harbaugh’s goal, Weaver fits.

Shaffer: Martindale’s defensive schemes didn’t lack creativity. His simulated-pressure packages, designed to free up a pass rusher with complex presnap looks, are among the best in the sport. What the Ravens could get from their next coordinator, whether he has ties to the organization or not, is a new perspective on where modern offenses are trending. The Ravens had one of the NFL’s best run defenses this year, and what did it get them? Not a whole lot. The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, had one of the NFL’s worst run defenses, but they were decent enough against the pass to be an average unit overall.

That value proposition won’t change anytime soon. But even as the Ravens’ front office built their defense from the back to the front — then watched injuries blow that vaunted secondary to pieces — players reiterated that stopping the run was their top priority. That approach is baked into the franchise’s hard-nosed tradition. So, it seems, is the team’s history of promoting from within to fill defensive coordinator vacancies. But after a season where almost nothing went right, maybe it’s time to reevaluate both ideas.

Doon: With strong candidates already on staff in Weaver and Hewitt, it’s hard to argue with another internal promotion. Martindale’s reliance on blitzes and man coverage certainly enjoyed its share of success, with the Ravens creating more unblocked pressures than any team in football from 2019 to 2020, according to Pro Football Focus. With cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters returning to full health in 2022, it’s tempting to stick with that formula. But this might be a chance for the Ravens to shake things up, especially with a potential overhaul looming on defense.

Does Martindale’s exit change the temperature on Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s seat at all?

Walker: No. These were always separate evaluations, even though it’s natural for us to link them. The Martindale move told us everything is on the table when it comes to fixing this team, but we probably should have known that anyway. The decision on Roman is a philosophical one as much as a referendum on his abilities. If Harbaugh still believes in the concepts he touted as revolutionary going into the 2019 season, he should stick with his coordinator, who remains a master of the run game. If he believes the Ravens have gone stale and need to unlock Jackson’s passing potential with more wide-open, three-receiver sets, he should probably look elsewhere.

Though many fans have turned on Roman, he did not get a clean shot in 2021, given the injuries at running back and the troubles at tackle. Don’t be surprised if Harbaugh gives him one more chance to reverse the downward trends of the past two seasons.

Shaffer: You will not find a better summation of the Ravens’ coordinator situation than this: In the hours after Martindale’s departure was announced, “Greg Roman” was trending locally on Twitter. Does Harbaugh care that Joe Fan has soured on Roman’s offensive schemes? Almost certainly not. But public sentiment does matter to some extent. There were plenty of open seats inside M&T Bank Stadium toward the end of this season, and if season-ticket holders decide to give up their 2022 plan because they’d rather not watch a Roman-led offense, that will become abundantly clear to Ravens officials.

The most important criterion for his job security hasn’t changed, however. The Ravens’ offense has trended downward since Roman took over, from No. 1 in efficiency to No. 11 to No. 17 this season, according to Football Outsiders. Some of that has been out of his control; just imagine how the top-ranking Tampa Bay Buccaneers would’ve fared if quarterback Tom Brady missed a third of the season. Now more than ever, though, Roman’s future hinges on Jackson’s performance. If Jackson recaptures his 2019 form, the Ravens won’t move on from Roman (unless he moves on himself). If Jackson’s struggles continue, the Ravens will have to seek a fresh start.

Doon: Only if Harbaugh wants to consider a complete overhaul, which seems unlikely. Roman deserves a full season with healthy running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and wide receiver Rashod Bateman before we declare his tenure a failure. Jackson might never again be as efficient as he was in 2019, but he showed signs of progress as a downfield passer early in the season. With a strong backfield, a first-team All-Pro tight end in Mark Andrews and two talented receivers, the Ravens have the pieces to be one of the league’s best offenses in 2022. The pressure is certainly on Roman to get the most out of that group, but there’s no reason to make a change this offseason. Roman is the only offensive coordinator Jackson has ever known as a full-time starter in the NFL, and continuity is important for a young quarterback.

What do you hope to learn from Harbaugh’s end-of-season news conference?

Walker: To what degree does Harbaugh believe the Ravens need to freshen up their approach, and to what degree does he believe injuries undid them in 2021? We already received a partial answer to this question with his decision to replace Martindale. Harbaugh will always say the Ravens are in problem-solving mode, and we know they will look to shore up their offensive line and restock their defense. But will they change from the foundation up, as they did going into the 2019 season?

Shaffer: What the heck happened to the defense in the first half of the season and to Jackson in the second half of the season? And what does he want to see from the Ravens’ coordinators next season to fix those troubles? An update on the team’s offseason injury situation would also be useful, but that might take a couple of hours to complete.

Doon: Does Harbaugh believe the Ravens belong in the same tier as the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills (and maybe the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals) in the AFC next season? Is he confident the Ravens can keep building a winning team around Jackson if they offer him a big contract? Is this lost 2021 campaign explained away by injuries and bad luck or a sign that the Ravens are slipping further away from the top contenders? If the Ravens are confident they can bounce back, we need to hear why.

How would you grade the Ravens’ season?

Walker: C. The Ravens fell short of their own expectations, which will rankle them far longer than any disappointment they sense from the outside. They believed they were good enough to make a deep playoff run and put themselves in position to do just that with an 8-3 start. It was not their fault that injuries took the heart and legs from their roster. It would be hard to find a team that could sprint across the finish line without its franchise quarterback, its left tackle, its top two running backs and its top three cornerbacks. So we have to grade on a curve, even in the next-man-up context of the NFL.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the offense had sputtered before Lamar Jackson hurt his ankle, that the defense gave up too many explosive plays when it was still relatively healthy, and that this team was playing with fire, even when it was winning close game after close game. Aside from a dominant win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the 2021 Ravens never came all the way together the way they envisioned back in August. They came within a few plays of making the postseason, a testament to their fight and resourcefulness. But they missed their mark by more than a little.

Shaffer: C. Strip away the context from this season, and an 8-9 record and last-place finish in the AFC North look like benchmarks in a failed season. Same goes for the league-worst pass defense and inconsistent offense. But look at the Ravens who started over the final six weeks of the year, and that assessment starts to feel harsh. According to one analysis, the Ravens were not only among the NFL’s leaders in games missed because of injury in 2021, but the value of the players they lost was also among the NFL’s most significant. Quarterback, left tackle and cornerback are three of the league’s most important positions, and the Ravens played most of the season’s back half with replacement-level starters (or worse) at each spot. It’s hard to blame the Ravens’ results when their process was so thoroughly compromised.

Doon: C-plus. Anything short of a return to the divisional round of the playoffs has to be considered disappointing, especially since the Ravens were at one point 8-3 and atop the AFC. Yes, the team eventually succumbed to all of those injuries during a season-ending six-game losing streak, but it was just just a few plays away from beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams down the stretch. The Ravens’ defense deserves most of the blame, failing to make a critical stop time and time again. Don “Wink” Martindale’s unit finished 28th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the second-worst mark in franchise history, behind only the expansion 1996 team. Even a healthy and productive Jackson might not have been able to overcome that.

Did Lamar Jackson’s 2021 season change your thinking on his long-term value to the Ravens?

Walker: No. He played like an NFL Most Valuable Player candidate early in the season, and we saw how the Ravens stopped pulling out wins with his big-play ability removed from the picture. Jackson’s season was full of contradictions, and his internal clock seemed to go haywire as opponents assaulted him with pressure in the second half. But give him better health, adequate protection on the edges and his familiar powerhouse running game, and a lot of those problems will fade away. The Ravens don’t have to sign Jackson to an extension this offseason, but they do have to operate as if their team is going to be built around him for years to come.

Shaffer: Kind of. Jackson’s still plenty capable of being the best player on the field in every game he plays, a generational quality that’s tough to attach a dollar figure to. But two of his most valuable traits — his ability to run circles around defenders and to figure opponents out — diminished over the season. He averaged just 6.8 yards per scramble after the bye week, which would’ve been the lowest mark of his career, and his overall sack rate in 2021 was a career-worst 9%.

When Jackson took questions at the end of the season, he was asked what went wrong over his prolonged slump. “To be honest with you, I really don’t know,” he said. He repeated himself — “I really don’t know” — three more times over his answer. Maybe Jackson did know. Maybe he just didn’t want to give anything way to defensive coordinators getting ahead on their 2022 homework. But too often this season, Jackson either didn’t have the right answer as a passer or didn’t know what to do with the solution.

Doon: A tiny bit. According to RBSDM.com, if you go by the analytical measures of expected points added and completion percentage over expectation, Jackson most closely resembled second-year quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. The former MVP has a much better long-term outlook than those two, but this year showed that Jackson’s floor might be lower than previously thought. His ceiling is still “perennial MVP candidate,” and that’s worth committing to long-term.

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DJ LeMahieu confident he can avoid trip to injured list

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DJ LeMahieu confident he can avoid trip to injured list

ST. PETERSBURG — DJ LeMahieu was able to hit after Thursday night’s Yankees win and is fairly confident he will be able to avoid the injured list.

“I don’t want to get too excited, but it’s definitely felt better as the day has gone on,” LeMahieu said. “I think that cortisone finally just took.”

LeMahieu had a cortisone shot in his left wrist on Tuesday. Before Thursday’s game he said the wrist had not improved enough. He admitted he might need to go on the IL. Thursday night, he was not available off the bench and the Yankees had just catcher Kyle Higashioka available.

“DJ was not available. Although it sounds like he’s doing a lot better in literally the last two hours,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “So we’ll see where we’re at. Kind of get together again tonight and see where we’re at in the morning.”

HICKS SCRATCHED

Aaron Hicks felt his right hamstring tighten during Wednesday’s game against the Orioles in the Bronx, but still tried to play Thursday. He had to be scratched less than an hour before first pitch, but he thinks he will be able to play on Friday.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be able to be there tomorrow and that’s what I’m planning on doing,” Hicks said.

The center fielder said he first felt it running to first base Wednesday. Boone said he asked Hicks to try and play Thursday, but after treatment he could not run at full speed.

The Yankees have gone through a bunch of injuries lately. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is on the COVID IL with a respiratory illness. Giancarlo Stanton is on the IL with an ankle injury.

NICE TO MEET YOU, YOU’RE BATTING EIGHTH

Matt Carpenter barely had time to put his bag down when he was called into a hitters meeting. The Yankees signed the former Cardinal and three-time All-Star before Thursday night’s game and when Hicks was scratched, he got rushed into the lineup.

“It was pretty crazy, I think I landed (in Tampa) at 3:20,” Carpenter said. “To be part of a huge win right away is pretty cool.”

Carpenter got hit by a pitch in the sixth and came around to score the Yankees first run of the night.

BRITTON AND GERMAN UPDATE

Zack Britton is expected to throw his first bullpen session since elbow reconstruction surgery on Tuesday, Aaron Boone said. The Yankees manager said he absolutely expects Britton to be back this season.

The lefty reliever was in the clubhouse before Thursday’s game. He has been recovering from left elbow reconstruction surgery in Tampa.

In other injury news, Yankees right-hander Domingo German, who has been rehabbing from a shoulder issue since spring training, has been facing live hitters in batting practice and is “close,” to getting a rehab assignment.

With the Yankees bullpen losing Aroldis Chapman (Achilles), Chad Green (Tommy John) and Jonathan Loaisiga (shoulder), German could possibly be a reinforcement when he is ready.

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David Banuelos’ impact with St. Paul Saints extends off the field

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David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

The backgrounds of Saints players feature a wide variety of honors and accolades from high school, college and earlier minor league stops.

Such notoriety for 25-year-old catcher David Banuelos includes being one of the three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award (given annually to the best collegiate catcher) in 2017 while playing for Cal State Long Beach. Banuelos’ recognized talents led to him being selected in the fifth round of that year’s draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Being recognized for his work off the field has proven to be equally gratifying. Banuelos was the recipient of the Twins’ annual Harmon Killebrew Award in 2018, given to players on all levels of the organization for their community work.

David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

“I love giving back to the community,” said Banuelos, who has continued his community work in the Twin Cities, prior to Thursday night’s 8-1 win over Indianapolis at CHS Field. “It’s something I was always appreciative of growing up.

“You can make a big impact in a person’s life just with the title that you have. Just taking a couple of seconds out of your day can make a little kid’s day — or year. I’m grateful for being in the position to be able to talk to kids and have a positive impact.”

The award has extra meaning to Banuelos due to the fact that one of his friends back in his native Ontario, Calif., is Killebrew’s grandson.

“It was a really cool award to win because I know the family personally,” Banuelos said. “His mom congratulated me as well for winning an award that was named after her father.”

Banuelos credits his own parents with instilling in him the willingness to give back whenever he can.

Interestingly, Banuelos’ middle name is Clemente, the surname of baseball’s greatest humanitarians, Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Following his death, Major League Baseball established the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player for his commitment to community service.

While Banuelos was not named after Clemente (it’s his father’s first name), the Pittsburgh Pirates legend has had an impact on him, especially being in a position of influence.

“People like that inspire you to do things (to help),” Banuelos said, “because there are bigger things in the world than baseball. When people like us can give back to the community they appreciate those kind of things.”

Banuelos’ community work usually involves kids, and he and his wife, Jessica, have a son, Ezekiel, who just turned 1. Being a father also has impacted Banuelos’ life, including on the field.

“The way I think has completely changed,” he said. “I control my temper a little more now on the field. It’s made me think twice before I do things — maybe three times. Because there are consequences to everything.”

BRIEFLY

Royce Lewis moved over from his customary shortstop to play third base on Friday. He made a diving stop behind the bag and threw out the hitter in the fifth. He also had two hits, drove in a run and stole a base.

Alex Kirilloff had a two-run home run, a double and an RBI single. Spencer Steer also homered.

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

By STEFANIE DAZIO

Irma Garcia’s family was already reeling from her death in the Texas school shooting that targeted her fourth grade classroom and killed her co-teacher and 19 students.

Then, a mere two days after the attack, her grieving husband collapsed and died at home from a heart attack, a family member said.

Joe Garcia, 50, dropped off flowers at his wife’s memorial Thursday morning in Uvalde, Texas, and returned home, where he “pretty much just fell over” and died, his nephew John Martinez told The New York Times.

Married for 24 years, the couple had four children.

Martinez told The Detroit Free Press that the family was struggling to grasp that while the couple’s oldest son trained for combat in the Marine Corps, it was his mother who was shot to death.

“Stuff like this should not be happening in schools,” he told the newspaper.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed Joe Garcia’s death to The Associated Press. AP was unable to independently reach members of the Garcia family on Thursday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut — remained under investigation, with authorities saying the 18-year-old gunman had no known criminal or mental health history.

The rampage rocked a country already weary from gun violence and shattered the community of Uvalde, a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border.

The Garcias loved to barbecue, 48-year-old Irma wrote in an online letter to her students at Robb Elementary School. Irma enjoyed listening to music and traveling to Concan, a community along the Frio River about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Uvalde.

The couple’s oldest child, Cristian, is a Marine. The couple’s other son, Jose, attends Texas State University. Their eldest daughter, Lyliana, is a high school sophomore, while her younger sister is in the seventh grade.

The school year, scheduled to end Thursday, was Irma’s 23rd year of teaching — all of it at Robb. She was previously named the school’s teacher of the year and was a 2019 recipient of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education from Trinity University.

“Mrs. Irma Garcia was my mentor when I began teaching,” her colleague Allison McCullough wrote when Irma was named teacher of the year. “The wealth of knowledge and patience that she showed me was life changing.”

For five years, Irma co-taught with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.

The suspect, Salvador Ramos, was inside the classroom for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.

“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” Mireles wrote last year in an online letter to incoming students.

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Associated Press journalist Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

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