The Ravens are a team going through growing pains, which makes this week’s three-day mandatory minicamp possibly more important than recent ones.
The Ravens finished the 2018 season with the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL, but coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is only in his second season in charge and the Ravens lost important free agents such as linebackers Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley during the offseason and released safety Eric Weddle.
An offense is being installed by new offensive coordinator Greg Roman and passing game coordinator David Culley. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is also in his crucial second year of development.
“I think everybody in here is picking it up faster than we thought we would,” Ravens fourth-year wide receiver Chris Moore said of the new offense. “Now, it’s just simple things of [the fact that] we’re a younger offense, but we just have to keep getting our timing down.
“It’s little things now; it’s cleaning it up. I don’t think we’re so much learning the offense anymore; it’s just getting the little details down. We’re also going against one of the best defenses every day, so it gets a little chaotic for us.”
Things will get more hectic this week because this camp is mandatory and some of the regular starters will be in attendance, such as outside linebacker Matthew Judon and right guard Marshal Yanda.
That means the pace of practices will be quicker and the game itself faster. With a team this young on offense, that will probably mean more mistakes. But the Ravens will have a feeling-out process on defense, too, as they try to find new leaders.
“I think it’s automatically there because of the simple fact that we lost elder statesmen and lost older guys,” said Ravens veteran defensive tackle Brandon Williams of his leadership role. “But really, I come in every year the same way, just ready to play football and ready to give it the best I got, and teach everyone around me as well as I know it, me and the younger guys.
“Coming into a leadership role, I know that it’s now time for me to step up even more than last year and even more next year. I’m ready for it. My biggest thing is to make sure these younger guys are taken under my wing and get the playbook right.”
This minicamp will be an opportunity to get more of a glimpse into what kind of offense the Ravens will be running in 2019. Coach John Harbaugh won’t reveal a lot now or even in training camp until he closes practices to the media shortly before the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at the Miami Dolphins.
But maybe we’ll see more run-pass option plays and sprint outs and waggles to go along with the option running plays Jackson ran a lot of last season. Already in offseason training activities, Jackson has thrown a lot of short passes but few deep balls.
Jackson’s passes are coming out of his hand better. There are fewer of those wobbly ducks he threw last season. It has been apparent in OTAs that the Ravens are emphasizing Jackson’s fundamentals, which should help his mechanics, but there are still too many times when he struggles transferring those skills from drill to drill.
Inside the organization, the Ravens know they can’t turn Jackson into another Russell Wilson. The hope is to increase his completion percentage by a couple of points from the 58.2% mark he had last season.
They want to get big plays out of speedsters such as rookie running back Justice Hill, the fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State, and first-year receiver Marquise Brown, the first-round selection from Oklahoma. They want to amass more time of possession by using tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews.
Unfortunately, Brown hasn’t been able to practice because of a Lisfranc injury he suffered in the Big 12 championship game. Rookie receiver Miles Boykin from Notre Dame has also missed practices because of a hamstring injury.
Brown’s injury is a concern. If he isn’t running now, will he be ready for the opening of training camp? If not, will he play in the season opener?
Elsewhere on offense, this will be a good opportunity to find out where the young offensive linemen, such as guard Ben Powers, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma, stack up in terms of quickness and strength. Contact is limited, but it is easy to tell where the young players rank compared with the veterans along the line of scrimmage.
You can tell which players have explosion, and which ones are too stiff.
On defense, there has already been chemistry developing among veterans such as Williams, fellow linemen Willie Henry and Michael Pierce, linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young and most of those in the secondary.
Since these three practices are open to the media, there is also a chance to get a peek at third-year outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams to see whether they are playing with enough consistency to possibly merit some serious playing time in 2019.
The Ravens aren’t in a rebuilding mode, but this franchise has embarked on a new era with a different general manager, a new franchise quarterback and a coach with a new contract extension.
This minicamp is different. There is more going on than usual.