‘It’s been a grind’

One year af­ter his re­lease from the Ea­gles, L.J. Fort has found a home in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Daniel Oye­fusi

In a sense, L.J. Fort’s NFL jour­ney bears some re­sem­blance to his up­bring­ing.

In the same man­ner that the 30-year-old vet­eran has bounced from city to city with re­spec­tive teams since 2012, so did he as a child, get­ting ac­cus­tomed to new bear­ings as the son of two par­ents who served in the Army and fre­quently moved to dif­fer­ent mil­i­tary bases.

Now, one year af­ter a for­tu­itous trans­ac­tion

and as he pre­pares to make his re­turn to Philadel­phia to face the Ea­gles on Sun­day, the Ravens line­backer has carved out a valu­able niche in Bal­ti­more.

Fort’s NFL de­but was one that seemed to fore­shadow a fruit­ful ca­reer, even though he en­tered as an un­drafted rookie from North­ern

Iowa. He earned a spot on the Cleve­land Browns’ 53-man ros­ter and started his first game be­cause of sev­eral in­juries, record­ing an in­ter­cep­tion and sack against the Ea­gles.

But he didn’t start an­other game for the rest of the sea­son. For the next four years, Fort spent brief mo­ments with sev­eral teams, only ap­pear­ing in one game — a short-lived stint at full­back with the Seat­tle Sea­hawks (“I got a cou­ple car­ries in col­lege,” said Fort, an

Dob­bins.

In­gram would pre­fer more car­ries to bet­ter get in sync but un­der­stands di­vid­ing up the at­tempts.

“I’ve just ex­pe­ri­enced that so much through­out my ca­reer that I think I can be help­ful and share my ex­pe­ri­ences and how I deal with shar­ing back­fields with Gus and with J.K. and Jus­tice [Hill] as well,” In­gram said. “I’m there for those guys, and we all want the ball. We all want to play, but we have a great room and we ro­tate and we stay fresh and we stay healthy, and that’s great for our team.”

Trans­la­tion: Un­til the Ravens lose, they are go­ing to stay with the re­volv­ing run­ning backs.

The third is­sue isn’t as easy to fix. A year ago, the Ravens were get­ting good move­ment on ini­tial con­tact with their com­bi­na­tion blocks.

That hasn’t hap­pened this sea­son. Left tackle Ron­nie Stan­ley has played with in­juries most of the sea­son, and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and cen­ter Matt Skura haven’t been as dom­i­nant as a year ago. Rookie Tyre Phillips now plays right guard in place of the re­tired Mar­shal Yanda, a po­ten­tial Hall of Famer.

“We can get bet­ter at that, for sure,” said Ravens coach John Har­baugh of the com­bi­na­tion blocks. “It’s some­thing that we did at prob­a­bly the high­est level last year, es­pe­cially with Yanda in there. It’s some­thing we’re work­ing on. It kind of goes with a lot of other things we can con­tinue to im­prove at. We have to, and I’d say that’s one of the things we’re work­ing on.”

Tak­ing stock: The Ravens have played only five games this sea­son so it’s too early to put much stock in a lot of things.

Af­ter the Ravens beat Cincin­nati 27-3 on Sun­day we started to hear or see things about how dom­i­nant the de­fense has been — maybe the best in the NFL.

Let’s use some com­mon sense here. The Ravens beat one of the worst teams in the league while reg­is­ter­ing seven sacks. The sack to­tal is im­pres­sive, but five were by de­fen­sive backs.

That’s a lit­tle scary. The Ravens have al­ways been good with pres­sure or blitzes, but that strat­egy hasn’t work against good teams in the play­offs or ver­sus Kansas City. The post­sea­son is about win­ning one-onone matchups, and un­til that hap­pens let’s cut down on the dom­i­nat­ing de­fense talk.

Cry­ing over lost shutout: So it fi­nally comes out that Ravens de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Don “Wink” Martin­dale was per­turbed that the Ben­gals kicked a 38-yard field goal with 32 sec­onds left in­stead of go­ing for it on a fourth-and-7 at the Ravens 20. The field goal ru­ined the Ravens shutout in a 27-3 vic­tory.

Ahh, boohoo.

Through the years Har­baugh and his brother Jim, now the coach at Michi­gan, have run the score up on op­po­nents, and did it re­ally make a dif­fer­ence if the Ravens beat Cincin­nati by 27 or 24 points? Maybe the Ben­gals were ticked off for Har­baugh call­ing a time out to spot the ball late in the game or be­cause Martin­dale brought back some of his first-string play­ers late to pre­serve the shutout.

If a shutout was that im­por­tant than the Ravens should have stopped the Ben­gals from go­ing on a 14-play, 55-yard drive to fin­ish with the field goal.

Martin­dale re­ally shouldn’t worry. One less shutout won’t stop him from pos­si­bly get­ting in­ter­views for a head coach­ing po­si­tion af­ter the sea­son.

Line matchups: Two key matchups in Sun­day’s game ver­sus Philadel­phia is how well the Ravens of­fen­sive line can han­dle the Ea­gles de­fen­sive line of tack­les Fletcher Cox and Javon Har­grave, and ends Josh Sweat and Bran­don Gra­ham. The Ea­gles cre­ate a lot of pres­sure with Sweat and Gra­ham, who each have three sacks.

The Ravens also have to con­trol Ea­gles tight end Zach Ertz. Cov­er­ing tight ends has been a prob­lem for years with the Ravens. Ertz has 20 catches 145 yards. Re­ceivers DeSean Jack­son (ham­string) and Al­shon Jef­frey (foot) are both side­lined with in­juries.

“Ertz has been do­ing it for a lit­tle while now, so we know what he’s like,” Ravens cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith said. “He’s re­ally savvy with his routes, like I said. He has great hands and he has good speed, so he’s go­ing to be a fac­tor this week that we have to take care of.”

What of Jack­son and Jef­frey?

“We don’t know who all is go­ing to be up, but that re­ally doesn’t mat­ter too much,” Smith said. “They have tight ends who catch the ball well and do a lot. So we’re go­ing to have our hands full.

“But we’re go­ing to take it day by day, learn their stuff, learn their schemes [and] learn ev­ery lit­tle thing we pos­si­bly can just to de­fend what they’re go­ing to try to do against us.”

Of the Ea­gles de­fen­sive line, Ravens of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Ro­man said: “They roll guys through, they keep peo­ple fresh [and] they play a unique style. So they’re ex­tremely pro­duc­tive, not just on sacks, but on quar­ter­back hur­ries. And they re­ally are ag­gres­sive at try­ing to dis­rupt the run­ning game with how they play up the field. It’s a very unique style”

Trust­ing Du­ver­nay: Maybe the Ravens fi­nally get it and will start us­ing rookie re­ceiver Devin Du­ver­nay in the of­fense more. Ro­man seemed to hint at that ear­lier this week es­pe­cially af­ter the speedy re­ceiver gained 42 yards on a re­verse against the Ben­gals.

“Yes, that’s def­i­nitely one of the rea­sons he was drafted,” Ro­man said. “And I think you’ll see him con­tinue to be a part of the of­fense in ev­ery role, re­ally. Ev­ery po­si­tion is a foot­ball player first. So his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a blocker, as a re­ceiver, if you want to call them the ‘ gad­get plays’ or what­ever, I def­i­nitely think those things will in­crease as his pro­duc­tion does.”

Stiffed: By now ev­ery­one has seen the great stiff-arm of Ti­tans run­ning back Der­rick Henry trash­ing Buffalo cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man.

The last time a run­ning back pun­ished de­fen­sive play­ers like that was back in the late 1970s when the Hous­ton Oil­ers Earl Camp­bell was run­ning through de­fend­ers. But not even Camp­bell could do what Henry did to Nor­man.

The only other player I’ve seen do that was for­mer Cleve­land Browns and Hall of Fame run­ning back Jim Brown from 1957 through 1965. Brown swat­ted away op­pos­ing play­ers like flies.

NICK WASS/AP

Bal­ti­more Ravens line­backer L.J. Fort has found a home in Bal­ti­more this sea­son af­ter bounc­ing around the league for sev­eral sea­sons.

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