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What’s next in the Ravens’ offensive evolution? Their preseason opener might’ve offered hints. | ANALYSIS

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What’s Next In The Ravens’ Offensive Evolution? Their Preseason Opener Might’ve Offered Hints. | Analysis
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Greg Roman’s playbook, always a subject of intense scrutiny in Baltimore, is always changing, always growing, a living document in a sport of constant upheaval.

The Ravens offensive coordinator said early in training camp that there’s “20% new stuff” in his inventory of calls. Then there’s the collection of run-pass-option concepts that coach John Harbaugh later said just hasn’t been completely “tapped into.” Who knows what else is hiding in there? Ravens players describe the breadth of Roman’s playbook the way they would a Cheesecake Factory menu.

“You would think it’s just run, run, run, until you get here and see how thick and big the playbook is,” running back Mike Davis, in his first year in Baltimore, said last week. “I was just surprised at how big the playbook is.”

More interesting than what’s in the playbook, though, is what’s actually called. Roman wants to make use of what he has in Baltimore. And even with most Ravens starters sitting out Thursday’s preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans, the 23-10 win could prove to preview the next iteration of Roman’s offense.

Most striking was the Ravens’ reliance on plays from under center. On six of the offense’s first seven plays Thursday, quarterback Tyler Huntley lined up not in the shotgun or pistol formation, as the Ravens did 96% of the time last season, according to Sharp Football Stats, but behind centers Patrick Mekari and Ben Powers.

Of Huntley’s 35 plays Thursday, including those negated by penalties, he was under center for 14 (nine run plays, five pass plays). That was not the dominant play structure for the Ravens’ first-half offense; Huntley took 19 snaps from the shotgun, including seven straight late in the second quarter as the Ravens briskly moved downfield. He also took two from the pistol, according to a review of the game film.

It can be tempting to extrapolate season-long trends from a preseason opener. It can be just as tempting to dismiss the games as meaningless altogether. But even a modest embrace of under-center offense would mark a stark contrast from the 2021 Ravens offense.

According to Sports Info Solutions, quarterback Lamar Jackson had just 12 drop-backs from under center all last season, finishing 1-for-10 for 20 yards. Forty-six NFL quarterbacks had at least as many under-center drop-backs last season. Dallas Cowboys backup Cooper Rush, who threw 47 passes total last season, 335 fewer than Jackson, tied Jackson with 10 such passes. Case Keenum had 21 under-center attempts in just seven games (two starts) with the Cleveland Browns.

With more under-center passing Thursday, the Ravens’ offense looked, coincidentally enough, more like the Titans’. Huntley’s first passing play was a play-action bootleg out of a two-tight-end formation. After faking a handoff to the left, he wheeled around to the right and found wide receiver Tylan Wallace, who’d motioned inside as if he were a blocker, cutting across the grain and into the flat for a 3-yard completion.

The Ravens’ depth of talent at tight end and fullback — Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely have provided near-daily highlights in camp, and Nick Boyle and Patrick Ricard can be punishing blockers — should force defenses into using bigger, slower personnel groupings. The field-stretching speed of wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay should stress defenses after the snap. With longer-developing play-action looks from under center, Jackson could have bigger windows to throw into.

“The under-center stuff, definitely, I think probably we’ll be able to do some of that stuff more effectively this year, just with how we’re built,” Roman said Sunday. “I think you might see some more of that.”

This early in the preseason, there are practical benefits to under-center drop-backs, too. Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban said Saturday that he learned from former Philadelphia Eagles and current Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid that “you teach quarterbacks timing from dropping under center.”

“So we do a good little bit of it during training camp,” Urban added. “I think it’s very, very important to learn to drop. We did some in the game the other night. And then, as you evolve, or protection-wise, it’s certainly easier sometimes to be in [shotgun]. But it’s easy to feel what that throw feels like when you have to separate from the line of scrimmage and do it — catch and drop. Now transition that same feeling, that same timing. That’s what we’re doing.”

Thursday’s game also hinted at changes in the Ravens’ running game, too. In 2019, during Jackson’s supernova of a season, the Ravens used the pistol formation — in which a running back lines up behind the quarterback in a modified shotgun set — on over half of their plays, according to Football Outsiders. In 2020, with their early-down success dipping, the rate fell to 44%. Last year, amid injuries to their offensive line, running backs and Jackson, their pistol usage dropped even further, to 28%.

Against Tennessee, Huntley had just the two pistol snaps. When Anthony Brown came in to start the second half, the Ravens’ under-center offense all but disappeared (three snaps). Still, they leaned more on shotgun looks (17 snaps) than pistol looks (eight snaps).

Roman has called his offensive philosophy “medieval,” a description best reflected in the Ravens’ power-running game — double teams, pulling linemen, heavy personnel packages. But with the arrival of first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum, the Ravens added an immediate-impact center who thrived at Iowa with zone concepts, where linemen are responsible for blocking an area, not a gap.

With more shotgun snaps, the Ravens could change the “launch point” for their zone runs, an area of weakness last season. Their top two running backs in 2021, Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray, combined for 335 yards on 89 inside- and outside-zone runs last season, or just 3.8 yards per carry, according to SIS. On all other carries, they averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

More and more teams are turning to outside-zone plays, and for good reason — because “it’s worked,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said Tuesday. Two of the NFL’s most influential offensive innovators, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay and San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, built their run-game structure around the concept.

“I think that just making defensive linemen, linebackers move sideline to sideline, it gives you a crease,” Campbell said. “For just one guy to mess up, you can capitalize on it more. And so you definitely have to move in unison to kind of build that wall and be able to travel together, and if one guy kind of gets out of position, it’s like special teams: You have to kind of replace him. So it’s tough. …

“I think the biggest thing you can do [as an offense] is mix it up, keep teams guessing. If you know exactly what a team’s going to do, you have a better chance of stopping it. But if you can mix it up and make it complicated, you’ll give yourself just a little bit of an edge, which you need in this game.”

Just how much change is underway in Baltimore? The answer could be clear in about a month. Or maybe not. Asked about his offense’s tendencies in Thursday’s game, Roman said: “I really don’t think there is much to read into on that.”

But he added: “We’re going to mix it up.”

Preseason, Week 2

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Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan named Big Ten offensive player of the week

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Gophers Quarterback Tanner Morgan Named Big Ten Offensive Player Of The Week
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Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan was named Big Ten offensive player of the week Monday. The sixth-year senior had a banner day in the 34-7 win over Michigan State on Saturday.

Morgan completed 88 percent of his passes Saturday — the third-best mark of his five-year playing career. In 2019, he completed 95 percent on the road against Purdue and then 90 percent in the upset of Penn State.

Morgan, who had 268 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, was great throwing more than 10 yards down field. He completed 11 for 12 for 150 yards and one touchdown in passes between 10 and 20 yards downfield. He was 2 for 3 for 49 yards traveling more than 20 yards. He added three rushes for 27 yards, earning some key first downs.

Morgan is the first Minnesota player to win Big Ten offensive player of the week since Nov. 9, 2020.

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‘Basketball Wives’ star Brooke Bailey’s daughter dead at 25

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‘Basketball Wives’ Star Brooke Bailey’s Daughter Dead At 25
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The 25-year-old daughter of “Basketball Wives” star Brooke Bailey has died, the reality mom announced Sunday.

“Forever my baby, Pretty Black aka Kayla Nicole Bailey,” she wrote on Instagram along with a series of photos of the pair. “This is not a goodbye. Mommy will see you soon.”

Bailey did not announce the cause of death for daughter Kayla, but did reshare a post that mentioned a car crash.

“My baby girl is so loved by all of youuuuu!!! The love and support my family has received today is unreal and so appreciated,” the 45-year-old reality star wrote in an Instagram story.

“Kayla left a mark on so many lives. She entered the room and demanded respect, love and attention. If you had the pleasure of meeting her and being friends with her she has forever changed your life.”

Bailey, who has been romantically linked to former NBA All-Star Rashard Lewis and University of Florida standout Vernon Macklin, who was drafted by the Pistons in 2011, returned to “Basketball Wives” in its 10th season.

In the current season, she and her new husband “turn their attention to IVF with hopes of completing their family,” according to the VH1 synopsis.

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler shoots down notion of casting him at power forward (and he shows off new hairstyle); Herro downplay starting role, extension

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler Shoots Down Notion Of Casting Him At Power Forward (And He Shows Off New Hairstyle)
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When it comes to Jimmy Butler potentially playing power forward this season, the Miami Heat’s leading man said Monday that his team had better start considering Plan B.

With power forward P.J. Tucker having left in free agency for the Philadelphia 76ers, and with the Heat not signing an outside replacement, Butler was asked at the team’s media day at FTX Arena if he would be willing to play this season in a power role.

“If they absolutely wanted to have a conversation,” Butler said of relenting to at least listen. “But I’m not going to play the four.”

The Heat’s other options at power forward include Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Max Strus, or one of the team’s center types, such as Dewayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven, albeit with coach Erik Spoelstra rarely favoring big lineups.

“I could play the four, yes, if they absolutely needed me to play the four, yes,” Butler said.

Of Tucker leaving, Butler said with a smile, “P.J.’s a traitor. I tell him every single day.”

Butler, 33, said the Heat would find a way to make it work without the veteran power forward.

“There are going to be changes,” he said. “Everybody realizes roles are going to change. There are going to be a lot of changes that have nothing to do with me. As training camp comes along, it’s going to be exciting to see what this lineup is about.”

Butler also downplayed offseason workout video showing him spending significant time working on his 3-point game. He stressed that his focus remains getting into the paint and getting to the foul line.

“Scout me however you want,” he said. “I’m still going to find a way to get into the paint.”

Of his offseason shift to a lengthier coif, Butler tried to insist that he hadn’t added extensions. But he also said he did not know if he would continue with the look during the regular season.

“I’m just messing with stuff to make the internet mad,” he said of the long braids he continued to sport Monday.

Adebayo’s attitude

Following Butler in the interview room, center Bam Adebayo downplayed the Heat facing a power deficit without Tucker.

“We always find a way,” he said. “That’s the Miami Heat way.”

For his part, he said he plans to take a more proactive approach in the offense.

“Yeah,” he said with a wide smile. “We are a lot better when I’m scoring.”

Heat President Pat Riley spoke at the end of last season of Adebayo getting up at least 15 shots a game.

Adebayo’s response, “18, trying to get it up this year.”

“You heard,” Adebayo added of Riley, “what the old man said about me.

“It is a big deal to me to come back better.”

The ongoing focus, though, he said, is to emerge with the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

“I mean, at this point, it’s politics,” he said of the annual media vote that went to Rudy Gobert and Marcus Smart the past two years.

Herro ball

Having said at the end of last season that he wanted to emerge as a starter, and with Riley saying shortly thereafter that such a role has to be earned, Tyler Herro somewhat softened the stance Monday.

“I’m a team player,” he said, “whatever Spo and organization wants me to do.”

Herro, appreciative of the importance of a well-rounded rotation, said he would accept, “whatever role fits me best.”

Eligible for an extension until the start of the regular season, Herro deferred such talk to his agent.

“I’m focused this season on basketball,” he said.

But confidence remains firmly in place.

“My offensive skill set is one of the best in the league,” he said.

With room, he said, for growth, “becoming more of a catch-and-shoot guy and attacking off the catch.”

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Dolphins’ Trent Sherfield spurs social media craze — and maybe an endorsement — for taking punt to backside

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Dolphins’ Trent Sherfield Spurs Social Media Craze — And Maybe An Endorsement — For Taking Punt To Backside
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Among everything seen in the Miami Dolphins’ exhilarating 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, maybe most unusual was wide receiver Trent Sherfield taking a punted football straight to his backside.

With less than two minutes to play and the Dolphins punting up against their own goal line, Sherfield, in as an upback on the special teams unit, backed up into punter Thomas Morstead’s kicking motion as he tried to block for him.

The ball went off the foot of Morstead, ricocheted directly off Sherfield’s buttocks and shot up into the air and out of the back of the end zone for a comical, blooper-reel safety.

It could’ve taken a drastically different tone had it cost Miami the game against the AFC East rival. Buffalo then just needed a field goal to win after previously trailing by 4 points, but the Dolphins stopped the Bills one last time to protect the 2-point lead and snap a seven-game losing streak against their divisional foe.

The commentary and reaction to the special teams blunder turned entertaining faux pas began immediately after the game.

“Never seen a butt punt before,” Dolphins star receiver Tyreek Hill said in the locker room. “Next time, he’s going to catch it with his butt cheeks because he’s got strong butt cheeks.”

Former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, infamously known for the “butt fumble” in his playing days before turning commentator, tweeted at Morstead, “Woah… stay out of my lane bro.”

Sherfield was just happy it took place in a win for the Dolphins.

“My cheeks have a big W tatted on them,” he tweeted with a smiley face on Sunday night.

But he also had fun with the craze.

The NFL’s primary Twitter account posted an image of the football getting booted straight into Sherfield’s hind parts, asking followers, “Is this the greatest photo of all time?” Sherfield quote-tweeted it: “Indeed it is.”

Toilet paper brand Charmin tweeted to Sherfield: “Those cheeks are going to need something soft. Check your [direct messages],” insinuating an endorsement could be on the way.

Sherfield replied: “I’m commercial ready whenever you guys are…”

The DUDE Wipes brand added to Charmin’s tweet: “We’ll cleanup what you leave behind…always up for the sloppy seconds.”

Morstead, who was having a fine afternoon with two punts of 59 yards plus others of 52 and 48, said postgame it was only the second time he had a punt blocked in his 14-year career.

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler shoots down notion of casting him at power forward (and he shows off new hairstyle)

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Heat’s Jimmy Butler Shoots Down Notion Of Casting Him At Power Forward (And He Shows Off New Hairstyle)
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When it comes to Jimmy Butler potentially playing power forward this season, the Miami Heat’s leading man said Monday that his team had better start considering Plan B.

With power forward P.J. Tucker having left in free agency for the Philadelphia 76ers, and with the Heat not signing an outside replacement, Butler was asked at the team’s media day at FTX Arena if he would be willing to play this season in a power role.

“If they absolutely wanted to have a conversation,” Butler said of relenting to at least listen. “But I’m not going to play the four.”

The Heat’s other options at power forward include Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Max Strus, or one of the team’s center types, such as Dewayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven, albeit with coach Erik Spoelstra rarely favoring big lineups.

“I could play the four, yes, if they absolutely needed me to play the four, yes,” Butler said.

Of Tucker leaving, Butler said with a smile, “P.J.’s a traitor. I tell him every single day.”

Butler, 33, said the Heat would find a way to make it work without the veteran power forward.

“There are going to be changes,” he said. “Everybody realizes roles are going to change. There are going to be a lot of changes that have nothing to do with me. As training camp comes along, it’s going to be exciting to see what this lineup is about.”

Butler also downplayed offseason workout video showing him spending significant time working on his 3-point game. He stressed that his focus remains getting into the paint and getting to the foul line.

“Scout me however you want,” he said. “I’m still going to find a way to get into the paint.”

Of his offseason shift to a lengthier coif, Butler tried to insist that he hadn’t added extensions. But he also said he did not know if he would continue with the look during the regular season.

“I’m just messing with stuff to make the internet mad,” he said of the long braids he continued to sport Monday.

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Chris Perkins: Dolphins grades, stock up, stock down for upset victory over Buffalo

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Chris Perkins: Dolphins Grades, Stock Up, Stock Down For Upset Victory Over Buffalo
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Say it any way you want — the Dolphins (3-0) are undefeated, in first place in the AFC East, the only team in the AFC with a perfect record — and it still doesn’t accurately capture what the Dolphins have done so far this season.

The crowning achievement to this point has been Sunday’s 21-19 victory over Buffalo. But that incredible 42-38 comeback victory at Baltimore was pretty darn impressive. And coach Mike McDaniel starting his career by leading the Dolphins to a 20-7 victory over New England and coach Bill Belichick was cool, too.

Still, knocking off Buffalo — the team that had a seven-game winning streak on the Dolphins, was favored by most to win the division and favored by many to go to the Super Bowl — was special.

Passing game: A

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13 for 18, 186 yards, one touchdown, 123.8 passer rating) came through with some big plays, most notably the 11-yard pass he zipped to wide receiver River Cracraft and the 45-yard deep pass he dropped into Jaylen Waddle’s hands. And he showed toughness with the head/back injury. Waddle (four receptions, 102 yards) led the way statistically, but Tyreek Hill (two receptions, 33 yards), Durham Smythe (three receptions, 23 yards) and Cracraft (one reception, 11 yards, touchdown) played roles. Pass protection only allowed one sack despite rotating right tackles at one point. There was at least one dropped pass, but overall it was a strong, timely performance.

Running game: C

Chase Edmonds (six carries, 21 yards, including an 8-yard carry) had two touchdowns, which is the saving factor here. Raheem Mostert (eight carries, 11 yards, including a 9-yard carry) didn’t do much. The Dolphins only had 41 yards rushing on 17 carries, which is 2.4 yards per carry. Granted, the Dolphins only ran 43 plays. But you’d like to see more production, considering Buffalo was missing a couple of run-stuffing defensive tackles in Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips. Still, the running game participated in a winning effort.

Defending the pass: B

Bills quarterback Josh Allen (42 of 63, 400 yards, two touchdowns) was pretty good. But Miami’s defense was even better among its four sacks, nine passes defended and 10 quarterback hits. Cornerback Xavien Howard kept Stefon Diggs (seven receptions, 74 yards) under control, and fellow cornerback Nik Needham played an exhausting 90 of 92 snaps (98%). Safety Jevon Holland (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks) was the only defender to play all 92 snaps. Melvin Ingram had 2.0 sacks. Allen did some damage, but he had 63 attempts, for goodness sake. The Dolphins’ defense was better than Allen.

Defending the run: B

Buffalo rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries, which is 5.0 yards per carry. The numbers don’t look great, but the run defense wasn’t bad. Running back Zack Moss (four carries, 46 yards) had a 43-yard run that boosted the statistics. But he was ineffective otherwise. Allen (eight carries, 47 yards, 5.9 ypc) did the heavy lifting for the Bills’ ground game. The Dolphins’ front seven, led by linebacker Jerome Baker (team-best 13 tackles), was active all day. Safety Brandon Jones (nine tackles) and linebacker Elandon Roberts (eight tackles) were also good.

Special teams: C-

Obviously the “butt punt” — punter Thomas Morstead punted from his own end zone and hit wide receiver Trent Sherfield’s butt before the ball bounced out of bounds for a safety — is the memorable occasion here, and it could have lost the game if not for a strong defensive stand. Otherwise, it was a good showing that included punts downed at the Bills’ 2-, 12- and 20-yard lines. The Dolphins didn’t attempt a field goal and their kickoff and punt coverage units were decent.

Coaching: A

The Dolphins, for the third consecutive week, were prepared and excited to play. Those are good first steps when you plan to win. Coach Mike McDaniel and offensive coordinator Frank Smith continue showing offensive variety while defensive coordinator Josh Boyer is overseeing a unit that continually makes plays. The Dolphins have rarely been caught off guard, even by Buffalo’s 63 pass attempts. Gameplans are solid and in-game adjustments are good. No issues here.

Stock up: Tua Tagovailoa

The man just keeps making plays. Tagovailoa’s deep throws have been masterful, such as Sunday when he hit Waddle in stride on a crucial 45-yard pass. Tagovailoa also showed admirable guts by returning to the game in the third quarter after sustaining a back/head injury. You already knew he could throw the short and intermediate passes with accuracy, and you saw that with the touchdown pass to Cracraft. Tagovailoa is having an outstanding start to the season.

Stock down: Chris Perkins

Did I really pick this team to win eight games?! Am I the guy who loudly questioned whether Tagovailoa improved his ability to throw the deep pass?! Yikes. I’ll admit the obvious, I’m looking very, very bad on both fronts.

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