Some casual observations from the second day of the Ravens’ OTAs (organized team activities) opened to the media Wednesday:
Backup battle: The Ravens will say there is a battle for the backup quarterback position behind starter Lamar Jackson between second-year player Tyler Huntley and third-year performer Trace McSorley, but Huntley appears to be ahead at this point.
In practice Wednesday, Huntley outperformed not only McSorley, but Jackson as well. He threw some really tight spirals to receivers Deon Cain and Tylan Wallace, and a perfect long ball to Jaylon Moore down the right sideline for a touchdown.
Huntley was hurt like other NFL rookies last year because the coronavirus restrictions limited his practice time. But he looks a lot more comfortable in the offense and there were times at practice when he got out into the open field and pulled away from defenders the way Jackson does.
Keep an eye on Huntley, the free-agent rookie the Ravens singed out of Utah last season. This offense was designed for mobile quarterbacks like him and Jackson.
Madubuike gets lean: It was easy to tell last year that if rookie defensive tackle Justin Madubuike had a strong offseason in the weight room he could have a good year in 2021.
A lot of Madubuike’s baby fat is gone and the 6-foot-3, 300-pound player out of Texas A&M looks a lot leaner. He certainly is quicker and more explosive off the ball. Because interior line play is so draining physically on the body, a lot of teams carry more linemen than other positions, a ploy former general manager Ozzie Newsome inherited from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Madubuike should be in a constant rotation with starters Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe. Barring injury, he’ll replace one as a starter in the near future. Yes, he has that kind of talent.
Receiver impressions: Veteran receiver Sammy Watkins participated in the practice Wednesday and didn’t have any jaw-dropping moments except for the two passes he dropped.
There wasn’t much explosiveness in his route-running, and maybe that can be attributed to the fact that he’s still learning the offense. But the receivers dropped at least six passes at the practice, which is a little unusual, with Watkins, Miles Boykin and tight end Eli Wolf each having at least two.
Rookie receiver Rashod Bateman, the team’s top draft pick, was impressive, and so was Wallace, though he lacks Bateman’s speed. But Wallace comes off the line of scrimmage well and is decisive in his route-running.
Line combination: One of the immediate things you notice about veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler is his punch. When he gets into a defensive lineman, he has strong initial contact. It’s going to be fun watching him play next to tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Timing will be an issue at first, but both have been around long enough to pick things up easily.
Slow learner: I thought this was an interesting response from outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins to a question about third-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson.
“The thing I’m most excited about with Jaylon is how he’s in such great shape right now, and he really has a grasp of the playbook that he hasn’t had the last two years,” Wilkins said.
Then what was going on in his brain those first two years? He was basically brought in as a “go-fetch” guy to sack quarterbacks and hasn’t produced. So, what exactly wasn’t firing upstairs? He played outside linebacker, not quarterback.
It’s football — it’s not that hard to learn.
Different drill: The Ravens did a drill during which a coach bounced a tennis ball in front of defensive linemen as they came off the ball and they had to catch it. It’s usually easy to figure out what a team is trying to gain out of a drill, but few veteran scribes couldn’t figure this one out.
I’m still scratching my head.
Boys will be boys: Madubuike and left offensive tackle Patrick Mekari got into a heated exchange with Madubuike ripping Mekari’s helmet off in the process. The two had to be separated by other players.
In the past two weeks, it’s been comical listening to coach John Harbaugh lecture his players about being more technically sound and less physical. But when you bring 70 or 80 players together, and some of them have been waiting their entire lives for this opportunity, there is going to be physical play.
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Harbaugh is just trying to cut down on the possibility of injuries, but that’s hard to do. Boys will still be boys, even if they are men.