As cross-conference opponents, the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles don’t square off often in the regular season. But while they prepare for their first meeting since 2016, links between the two teams remain firm.
Close friends and former colleagues will find themselves on opposite sidelines of Sunday’s game. One Ravens defender began last season as a member of the Eagles and another spent a treacherous childhood in Philadelphia. Connections between the coaching staffs run strong, too.
Here’s a little insight into a few noteworthy Eagles-Ravens connections:
Longtime friends compete — in a meaningful game, this time
In his attempt to add another layer to his skill set sentering his fourth season as a Ravens outside linebacker, Tyus Bowser turned to one of his closest friends: Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward.
Bowser and Ward grew up together in Tyler, Texas, and graduated from John Tyler High School in 2013. They remained teammates the next four years at the University of Houston, where Bowser developed into a top-flight draft prospect as a pass rusher and Ward starred at quarterback.
Upon reaching the NFL, Ward switched positions to play wide receiver.
And this offseason, during training sessions in the Texas heat, Bowser said he spent time covering Ward in one-on-one route-running drills to hone his talents in pass coverage. Perhaps Sunday he’ll drop back from the line of scrimmage and find himself trying to stick with Ward in an NFL regular-season game, just like he did on empty fields over the summer.
It’s no wonder Bowser felt Ward would help him improve. He reveres his former teammate.
After Ravens MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson dropped jaws with a spinning 49-yard touchdown run in a win over the Bengals last year, Bowser said he was accustomed to seeing those types of athletic displays.
“I had Greg Ward on my team at Houston, and he kind of made those same particular plays,” Bowser said. “So just being able to see that, it wasn’t much of a surprise.”
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In 2016, Ward and Bowser helped Houston beat Jackson’s Louisville team, 36-10. Though Jackson won the Heisman Trophy that year, Ward outshined him that day with 233 passing yards and two touchdowns. Bowser also sacked his future teammate in the rout.
“I definitely have a lot of memories about that game,” Ward said earlier this week. “Me and Tyus Bowser, we were on Houston playing against Lamar, so it is definitely a lot of memories. Every time I see him, just like whenever we had the scrimmages, I talked to him about it, just messing with him about the game.”
Sunday, Bowser and Jackson will be on the same sideline — but don’t think he and Ward will pass up the chance for a hug and a chat.
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L.J. Fort returns to Philadelphia to face the Eagles with the Ravens
The Eagles have endured some struggles at linebacker over the past two seasons with a rotating cast holding down the position with some mixed results. Meanwhile, L.J. Fort, who spent the first four games of the 2019 season with the Eagles, has found a home down I-95 with the Ravens.
The Eagles signed Fort to a three-year deal in free agency in March 2019 after a couple years with the Steelers. But they released him in September in order to sign cornerback Orlando Scandrick in a move also thought to be related to the compensatory pick formula.
The Ravens signed Fort, and he’s grown into a key contributor. He’s appeared in 17 games and made eight starts for Baltimore, and he’s recorded 20 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown.
“He’s just kind of a really good fit for us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week. “I think players fit different teams different ways. We had played against L.J. a lot when he was in Pittsburgh, so we kind of knew him as an opponent, and he adds so much value. He’s a versatile player. He’s just been a real plus for us. We’re very, very, very fortunate to have him on board.”
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The Ravens have a deep group of talented linebackers, while the Eagles will be missing two of their three starters entering the season because of injuries. The one healthy starter, Nathan Gerry, has struggled glaringly at times this season.
Meanwhile, Fort is looking to continue his solid play on the other sideline.
“I’ve always liked L.J., even in the short time that we had him here,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He came out of a very similar scheme when he was with Pittsburgh, and that’s when he signed him. He’s really settled into his role and his position at linebacker. He’s done a nice job. You see him on tape and he’s one of 11 defenders on tape that’s flying around and making plays and being disruptive. It’s always something that I knew, even when he was here fitting into our scheme as a four-down, three linebacker-scheme here, some of the same things that I saw. But there in Baltimore, he’s definitely made an impact on that defense.”
One of Fort’s former teammates is happy to see his success, though.
“Oh man, I love L.J.,” linebacker Alex Singleton said Friday. “I’m so happy for him. He’s done everything that me and him talked about when we were here. He kind of had a similar journey to me. It took him a long time to get reps, to crack the team as a special team player, then to be able to play defense. To see what he’s doing is incredible. It’s awesome to see. I’m excited to see him. It’s going to be fun. I’m sure we’ll find each other on special teams a couple times. I’m just excited for what he’s done in this league to show the kind of player he is.”
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Coaching/front office links
Ravens coach John Harbaugh began his tenure in the NFL in Philadelphia, where he served as the leader of the Eagles’ special teams units from 1998 to 2007. He was on the staff when Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson spent one years as a quarterback for the franchise in 1999.
During that season, Pederson was the holder for the Eagles kickers, so he and Harbaugh had plenty of time to work together. Last year, Harbaugh recalled a story where the Eagles field goal team got out for a quick kick at the end of a half. Pederson got the field goal team lined up — except there was no kicker.
But the future Eagles coach stalled and snapped the ball at the last possible moment to avert a disaster.
On Friday, Pederson was asked to look back on that 1999 season with Harbaugh.
“Gosh, you’re going — geez almighty, I’ve slept since then,” Pederson said. “Hopefully, it comes down to a hold. Maybe that’s the key to the game right there. You just unlocked the key to victory, the holders.
“I do think back on John, and when he was here with Coach (Andy) Reid back in those early days. He’s always had an aggressive mindset. His special teams have always been detailed and really prepared. Obviously back then when I was a player, you don’t know necessarily how a coach could — if they’re going to be a good head coach or a great head coach or not.
“But you just know he had the right chemistry, he had the makeup, he had the demeanor that if given the opportunity you know he was going to be successful just because of the way he — I do remember how he approached his special teams unit. Again, how well prepared they were, how hard they played for him, and that’s obviously carried over to his teams in Baltimore.”
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The Philly influence on Baltimore’s coaching staff does not stop at the top, though. Ravens receivers coach and passing game coordinator David Culley spent years working for the Eagles under Reid, and quarterbacks coach James Urban — the primary in-house mentor for MVP Lamar Jackson — got his start under Reid in Philadelphia, too.
Links go both ways. Marty Mornhinweg, now a senior offensive assistant for the Eagles, joined the Ravens coaching staff in 2015 as the quarterbacks coach, and he became the offensive coordinator in 2016, a position he held through 2018.
The Eagles cited Mornhinweg’s familiarity with Lamar Jackson as something that could help rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts after the team drafted him in the second round of April’s draft.
“Marty Mornhinweg is on staff with me now and he was down there when they drafted him,” Pederson said earlier this week. “He saw that integration into the offense with him. So, it’s very capable with a guy of his skill set, his athleticism. He does have a really good arm to be able to sustain and have the type of production that he has.”
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Mornhinweg first joined Reid’s Eagles staff in 2003 and advanced from senior assistant to offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, which means he spent five seasons with Harbaugh.
The Eagles front office under executive vice president/general manager Howie Roseman has some Baltimore ties, too. Former vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas, a former longtime Ravens scout, left last summer to become the general manager of the Jets, but new vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl and assistant director of player personnel Ian Cunningham worked in Baltimore with Harbaugh.
Director of player personnel/senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn spent time in Baltimore during the 2000s before Harbaugh arrived, while player personnel executive TJ McCreight was there in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
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— Former NFL wide receiver Torrey Smith won a Super Bowl with the Ravens (2012) and the Eagles (2017), developing into a fan favorite in both cities. He’s not sharing he’s rooting preferences for Sunday.
— Ravens outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and Eagles running back Boston Scott played together at Louisiana Tech. “Boston Scott – straight out of LA Tech. That’s my former dog, teammate, but not teammates – not on gameday,” Ferguson said this week. “We’ve got to tackle him and hold all 11 hats to the ball every time.”
— Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward endured a challenging upbringing in North Philadelphia in a neighborhood he calls “Zombieland” before embarking on a winding path to the NFL.
“Jihad Ward is just one of my favorite players,” Harbaugh said this week. “He plays ridiculously hard. He’s really just a kind of down to earth, straightforward guy who loves football. When we come in on Monday morning after we play, he’s the first guy in the weight room. I’m in — I’m gonna tell you, I’m in there first. But he’s in there right after me. That’s pretty impressive for a guy that just played all his snaps because all I did was stand on the sideline and watch. So he’s just a real special guy. He really fits our personality as a team. Good family man. We’re really blessed to have him on board here.”
Daniel Gallen covers the Philadelphia Eagles for PennLive. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Follow PennLive’s Philadelphia Eagles coverage on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Aaron Kasinitz covers the Baltimore Ravens for PennLive and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AaronKazreports. Follow PennLive’s Ravens coverage on Facebook and YouTube.