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Mike Preston

Mike Preston’s Ravens observations on DL Michael Pierce’s absence, QB Lamar Jackson’s return and a few surprises at minicamp practice | COMMENTARY

Starting defensive lineman Michael Pierce was absent from the first day of the Ravens’ mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday, which should be a cause for concern.

The Ravens were without Pierce and one-time starting defensive end Derek Wolfe, who announced Monday that he had undergone a second hip surgery in five months.

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But there were never really any high hopes for Wolfe’s return. Coach John Harbaugh announced Tuesday that the team reached an injury settlement with Wolfe, ending his time in Baltimore after 14 games.

Pierce, though, was a different matter.

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He was expected to help re-establish the Ravens as one of the top run defenses in the NFL, which has become an important characteristic of Baltimore teams.

“I can’t give any details,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a personal matter and we understand the situation. It’s something that is what it is, and that’s where it stands.”

Pierce, a 2016 undrafted free agent signed by the Ravens out of Samford, did not participate in any of the team’s voluntary practices over the last three weeks, but he was expected to return Tuesday.

His playing weight has been an issue throughout his career, and the Ravens need him to report to training camp fit and ready to perform. Before Pierce signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings before the start of the 2020 season, Harbaugh asked the 6-foot, 345-pound Pierce to leave a minicamp practice because he was believed to be 30 to 40 pounds over his playing weight.

In two years with the Vikings, Pierce started only six games. He opted out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns, then played six games in 2021 before he was put on injured reserve Nov. 13 with an elbow injury.

The Ravens signed Pierce to a three-year contract worth $16.5 million on March 17, and he was expected to start and provide some bulk up front. In a previous four-year stint with the Ravens, Pierce had 151 tackles in 60 games.

A lot of teams have gone away from the shock-and-shed middle linebackers of previous decades and employed more Ray Lewis types who can run sideline to sideline. Lewis, though, was at his best when he had big linemen in front of him like Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa and Haloti Ngata.

Pierce was expected to play a similar role, but the Ravens can’t even get him on the field yet. The news about Wolfe’s settlement compounded the problem Tuesday.

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Nose tackle Brandon Williams is still a free agent and comfortable living in Baltimore. He’ll probably retire unless given an offer by another team.

Harbaugh, though, said he has been impressed with Broderick Washington, a third-year defensive tackle out of Texas Tech whom the Ravens drafted in the fifth round in 2020.

Let’s hear from Jackson

Harbaugh said star quarterback Lamar Jackson, appearing in his first practice of the offseason, threw the ball well Tuesday.

It might have been Jackson’s best practice performance in the four years he has been with the team.

In the first 45 minutes, Jackson didn’t throw one bad ball; they were all tight spirals. His footwork was good, and he looked extremely fit.

Jackson’s presence improves the intensity of practices and he certainly makes the backup quarterbacks perform better.

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His mechanics, however, are still the same. There are times when he drops his elbow and throws sidearm or flicks a pass back across the middle while on the run.

But then there is the Jackson who eludes pressure, moves to his right and delivers a 67-yard touchdown dart down the right sideline to tight end Mark Andrews.

It would have been interesting to speak with Jackson afterward to talk about his first practice and the departure of close friend and receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals on the first night of April’s draft.

But the Ravens won’t allow Jackson to be interviewed until Thursday. Apparently, two days of tough questioning might be too much.

Privately, some Ravens officials have complained about Jackson’s behavior, but they contribute with their pampering.

Jackson should have been available Tuesday because he and the team haven’t reached an agreement on a long-term deal for almost a year now.

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You wonder how much Jackson and Brown talked about the Ravens’ poor passing game. In recent years, veteran receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton have turned down offers from Baltimore, which has been one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL since Jackson’s arrival. After being traded, Brown said the Ravens’ system “wasn’t for me.”

Maybe Jackson wants to be more involved as a passer and doesn’t think he’ll get that opportunity in Baltimore with offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

It’s an interesting possibility, especially considering Brown’s departure and Jackson declining to sign a long-term deal.

Put more on Proche’s plate

The Ravens have to find a way to get third-year receiver James Proche II more involved in the offense.

Proche doesn’t have great speed, but he has a knack for finding holes in zone defenses and might have the best hands of any receiver on the team.

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There were at least three times Tuesday when he caught passes across the middle and ran away from defenders.

The Ravens can’t put the 5-11, 193-pound Proche on the outside, but he can play the slot. If they don’t use him in Baltimore, I bet New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can find out a way to get him the ball easily.

Moon’s out today

Few people know about rookie outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon, but the undrafted free agent out of Florida got several pressures in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday.

He was playing with the No. 3 defense against the No. 3 offense, but you have to start somewhere.

Meanwhile, fourth-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, who has lost about 20 to 30 pounds, looks quicker and is hustling down the field on a lot of plays, something he didn’t do last year.

Ferguson is also working better with his hands instead of relying on power.

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A screen!?

The Ravens completed a screen for about 20 yards in practice, which should have drawn a standing ovation.

The Ravens are one of the worst screen teams in the NFL, but on Tuesday, they faked a quick pass to the left and completed a dump-off to running back Justice Hill.

Here’s the best part: The Ravens had offensive linemen out in front blocking.

Amazing.

That’s a lot of beef

While on the subject of the offensive line, the Ravens at one point had 6-6, 357-pound Ben Cleveland at right guard and 6-8, 380-pound Daniel Faalele at right tackle.

The earth moved under their feet.

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Faalele, though, needs to get in shape. He spent a lot of time last Tuesday with his hands on his hips, then went down on his knees before a trainer rushed over and provided assistance.

Meanwhile, the best punch of any offensive lineman might belong to left guard Ben Powers. When Powers gets a good shot in, he could knock an opponent into next week.

Receivers run wild

Here’s a message for safety-cornerback Brandon Stephens while trying to defend receiver Tylan Wallace: He went that-a-way.

Wallace gave Stephens a double move in the second half of practice and scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass.

First-year receiver Jaylon Moore also had one of those moments, leaping over cornerback Robert Jackson for a 40-yard touchdown reception down the left sideline.

One more receiver tidbit: Mustaqeem Williams, a former member of the University of Tennessee track team who tried out Tuesday, made several big plays in practice.


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