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Mike Preston’s Ravens training camp observations on the state of the offense, rookie progress and more | COMMENTARY

The Ravens have already talked about getting running back J.K. Dobbins more involved in the passing game and having quarterback Lamar Jackson take more conventional snaps under center, but they’ve added a few other wrinkles that might not be on display until the beginning of the regular season.

The media isn’t at liberty to talk or write about certain plays or formations run at training camp, but there are some new and exciting concepts. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is still improvising to see what works and what fails, but it is apparent that he and coach John Harbaugh got the message that they needed to improve an offense that was No. 1 in rushing and No. 32 in passing last season.

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It’s called balance.

“Training camp is really a time where we have to create an identity on offense,” Roman said. “I think the first couple of days the players have done a great job of starting to build that foundation. Every year you have to start over at ‘square one.’ If you were good at something the previous year, you can’t just assume, ‘Oh, we’re going to be good at this.’ You have to start it off with the real basics every single year.

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“That kind of builds just a detail-oriented approach from the players, and they’re doing a great job of that. I think we have a good plan, and we’re glad we got some time this year to kind of practice that and really get a feel for us. We got some new pieces we’re really excited about, and we’re looking forward to building it day-to-day.”

In the first three days of training camp, the Ravens have thrown the ball downfield often, even though Jackson has been out after testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Both backup quarterbacks, Tyler Huntley and Trace McSorley, have attacked all areas of the field, even the far sidelines.

Receiver Sammy Watkins has played well. Rookie receiver Rashod Bateman, the team’s top draft pick, had been quiet the first two days but made some plays Friday. Second-year receiver James Proche II has also been impressive. Tight end Mark Andrews made two good diving catches in practice, and the No. 2 tight end position is starting to heat up with Eli Wolf going against Josh Oliver. Both have played well.

"[It's] a great opportunity for them, and I think they're doing a really good job with it," said Greg Roman on the opportunity that the backup QB's are getting.

Rookie linebackers showing progress

Rookie outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes have gotten some attention with their play so far. Hayes, out of Notre Dame, is much more polished and might be able to contribute sooner than Oweh, who needs to improve his technique.

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Both players, though, come off the ball well and have shown good speed on the perimeter. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has done a good job of mixing Oweh and Hayes into the rotation and getting them a lot of repetitions. A better evaluation will come once the team moves to full padded practices.

“Both of those rookies on the outside are doing really well,” Martindale said. “And I can’t wait until we get into the pads, because everything is — like they say at the combine and they say at OTAs — ‘shorts and T-shirts, shorts and T-shirts.’ There is the old school in me. There is some truth to that — that you want to see everybody get in pads before you give the full update.”

Can’t stop him

A lot of people say that Andrews has become Jackson’s favorite target, but he appears to have become the top choice of all the quarterbacks.

Andrews caught a back-shoulder fade for a touchdown early in the practice and then stretched out for another reception in a 7-on-7 drill. Ravens players like to talk a little smack in practice, and it’s fun watching Andrews’ antics with the ball after a touchdown catch.

There is no malice, just good old-fashioned competition.

Intrigue in the secondary

Another rookie to keep an eye on is cornerback Brandon Stephens, a third-round pick out of SMU.

The kid is a physical specimen at 6 feet 1 and 213 pounds. He has outstanding athleticism and should be able to help the Ravens once he learns the playbook. Plus, Stephens has speed, which has been a problem for the secondary when matching up against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Maybe Watkins, the former Chief, can help the Ravens game plan for Kansas City. Stephens can play corner or safety, and Martindale likes those hybrid/tweener types. He has been using Nigel Warrior in a safety/corner combination as well, and Warrior, an undrafted free agent in 2020, had an interception on a long pass attempt Friday.

Work to do with Jackson

Even though Jackson can’t attend practices, Roman said the team is in communication with him so he isn’t missing a lot of classroom time. Harbaugh downplayed the starting quarterback’s absence recently, but practices with a cast that includes several new receivers are extremely valuable.

The timing between a quarterback and his receivers is the bread and butter of every passing game.

The Ravens will have a lot of work to do once Jackson returns, which could be as soon as late next week.

Better up front

Veteran offensive tackle Andre Smith had a better day in pass protection compared with Thursday’s effort. His steps were quicker, and he didn’t get overextended as much.

Another tackle to keep an eye on, this one on defense, is second-year player Broderick Washington. The 2020 fifth-round pick is much more explosive than a year ago, and that probably comes with a year in the weight room under the team’s strength and conditioning program.

Making someone’s day

During the early portion of practice, as the defensive linemen did sled work, veteran Calais Campbell went over and shook hands with several members of the Forest Park Black Hawks 12-13 football team.

After Campbell shook young Jermaine White’s hand, White walked away like he was in la-la land.

“I will never wash that hand again,” said White.

Turn up the volume

I don’t know who is cranking up the music on the practice fields, but they deserve a shout-out. On Friday, they gave us some Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire.

On Thursday, the Ravens went old school with some Curtis Mayfield. If they play “Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone or the “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, then we nominate them for a top music award.

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