Mike Preston: At this point, Ravens need to hope for one healthy tight end

Ideally, the Ravens would like to have two tight ends in the offense when they go to a power running game, but it’s hard to find even one starter among the six on the roster.

Because of injuries, the Ravens rotated as many as seven players at tight end throughout a three-day minicamp last week, even though just two were available for most practices. When asked about the injuries, position coach Greg Roman, who is also the running game coordinator, implied that it was a position by committee.

“These guys are great guys and really good football players,” Roman said. “I think they bring different, unique skill sets, each one of them. I think we will be able to deploy them in a variety of ways because of that. They are tough, they are smart and competitive guys.”

Translation: Roman doesn’t know how this is going to play out, either. It’s like that old saying about playing two quarterbacks. “If you are playing two, that means you really don’t have one.”

The Ravens don’t have a bona fide, consistent, every-down tight end. Even before Dennis Pitta suffered another hip injury, there were questions about this unit.

They can’t stay healthy. Benjamin Watson has to prove he has fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Maxx Williams had offseason knee surgery, and Crockett Gillmore tweaked a hamstring last week. Darren Waller has an injury that coach John Harbaugh never clarified, leaving the Ravens basically with Nick Boyle.

And Boyle is one drug test away from being suspended for two years because he has failed two others during his two-year career.

“What we are looking to do is just get the most out of the reps we are taking,” Boyle said. “Yes, you are going to get tired, and you want to make the most of your opportunities to show what you can do on the field. You get tired, but the trade-off is to show the coaches what you can do on the field in all phases of the game.

“Since coming here, I think I have improved a lot on my route-running and everything. There is still a lot to improve on, which we see every day and I get reminded of, but it’s definitely night and day from my rookie season until this year. I feel a lot more comfortable.”

Boyle appears to have the most potential. He is young, is strong and has improved as a receiver. He is probably the best blocker in the group, so he should get plenty of playing time if the Ravens are serious about having a strong running game.

But after Boyle, the picture becomes cloudy. Watson is the best all-around tight end. He stays in great shape and has the body of a player 10 years younger, but it’s hard to come back from an Achilles injury at any age, much less 36.

Waller isn’t much of a blocker but has good hands. He can go deep but needs to spend more time grasping the playbook and concepts. Let’s put him in the “work-in-progress” category.

Gillmore, a third-round pick in 2014, was once in the same classification but hasn’t done much since being sidelined with a back injury after the first 10 games of 2015. Williams, a second-round pick in 2015, hasn’t done much period, even though he was a favorite of former offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. The Ravens aren’t even sure whether Williams will be ready for the first day of training camp in late July.

“I think Maxx will be interesting, whether he will be there for the first day or not,” Harbaugh said. “He is going to push it. Knowing Maxx — I guarantee you one thing, if it is humanly possible, he will be ready. But he has that new surgery, so that is a little bit of a gray area for us knowing how he is going to respond.”

The Ravens are in a tough situation. Current offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg appeared to de-emphasize the tight end position once he replaced Trestman last October, but quarterback Joe Flacco was in a comfort zone with Pitta and fullback-tight end Kyle Juszczyk by the end of last season.

But with the emphasis on running the ball and having great speed on the outside in receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, the Ravens could use a big tight end to work the middle of the field with newly acquired receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Unfortunately, they don’t have one right now. They have a committee, but no definite front-runner.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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