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Mike Preston

Mike Preston’s Ravens observations on criticism of Greg Roman, slimmer Jaylon Ferguson, skill in the secondary and more | COMMENTARY

Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been harshly criticized the past three years and he’ll likely face more this season because his unit needs a lot of work.

It’s only June, so there’s still ample time for the Ravens to add personnel, but the passing game is clearly lacking. They might have one of the worst groups of wide receivers in the AFC. It also doesn’t help that star quarterback Lamar Jackson has been a no-show for the first two weeks of voluntary offseason training activities.

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It’s not like Jackson’s arm will make a big difference, but his running ability gives this offense an added dimension and strengthens the passing game.

Like coach John Harbaugh last week, Roman referred all questions on Jackson to the quarterback, who is involved in negotiations for a long-term contract extension. Clearly, the passing offense is out of rhythm, but Roman sees a young group of receivers including Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II starting to come around.

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“They are young, diligent and been through a lot of things at this point,” Roman said. “You’re starting to see flashes a little bit, and we’re taking another step where you’re seeing progress in route running and all those things.”

With Jackson out, backup Tyler Huntley has been making slow and steady progress, but you can still sense a feeling-out process between him and the receivers.

“It’s a natural growth you would expect with the way he is commanding things, operating things and knowing how to fix things on the fly,” Roman said of the third-year quarterback.

There are several times during practice when Bateman will make a great catch — like the 45-yard touchdown pass he pulled in from Huntley — and you’re convinced he is or will develop into a No. 1 receiver. The 2021 first-round pick has size, speed and strong hands.

Then he’ll drop two or three passes on short routes across the middle and you shake your head in disbelief. Let’s attribute that to growing pains.

Duvernay has outstanding speed, which has rarely been used properly since he was drafted in 2020. Proche might have the best pair of hands on the team and would be great in the slot, but he barely touches the field even though he has played well in these minicamp practices.

It’s a strange mix of coaching, scheme and quarterback play that makes this Ravens season more interesting than the previous three because the window is starting to close for all those involved with this offense.

Ferguson looking fit

As soon as you walk onto the practice field, it’s clearly noticeable that fourth-year defensive end/outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson has lost some weight, maybe 15 to 25 pounds. It might be good for his explosion and ability to get off the ball, and maybe this season he’ll develop an assortment of pass-rushing moves.

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Ever since the Ravens drafted him in the third round out of Louisiana Tech in 2019, Ferguson has relied on the bull rush, but it’s hard to physically dominate NFL tackles the same way he did in college. In his three previous seasons with the Ravens, Ferguson has started only 10 of 38 games while collecting 4 1/2 sacks.

When he came out of Louisiana Tech, then-Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale claimed Ferguson was the best pass rusher in college football. He hasn’t lived up to that hype, but maybe the weight loss will help.

Pressure on Phillips

As the Ravens’ third-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2020, Tyre Phillips had all the physical attributes to be successful in the NFL, yet the 6-foot-5, 344-pound offensive lineman hasn’t played up to his potential.

When you watch him at practice, he seems slow or hesitant during team drills but moves faster in individual drills, which might mean he is still struggling to get comfortable in the offense. Like Ferguson, Phillips needs to put together a strong 2022 season or the Ravens might decide to look elsewhere — even though they like his versatility.

Sizing up the secondary

During the offseason, the Ravens kept adding cornerbacks or safeties via free agency or the draft, which was kind of puzzling. Why does a team need six safeties, and what’s up with the 12 cornerbacks on the roster, two of which double as safeties?

When you watch the Ravens practice, this group is going to struggle in coverage if their two starting inside linebackers, Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes, stay on the field in passing situations. So, to remedy that problem, it appears the Ravens will put their best athletes on the field. It should be quite a talented group, led by cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and safeties Chuck Clark, Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton, the team’s top pick in April out of Notre Dame.

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The large number of safeties will give new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald a lot of options because all of them can play near the line of scrimmage and blitz.

Men in the middle

Rookie nose tackle Travis Jones, a third-round pick from Connecticut, has a lot to learn, but the big man knows how to use his hands and arms to rush the passer. If he continues to develop, he might give the Ravens an inside player who can collapse the pocket, something this team hasn’t had in years.

Meanwhile, it’s disappointing that veteran defensive tackle Michael Pierce, signed earlier this offseason, hasn’t shown up for OTAs. In the past, he has struggled with weight, and it would have been a show of good faith to participate in voluntary workouts. Also, there appears to be little interest from other teams in signing free-agent veteran nose tackle Brandon Williams.

There is still a lot of time before training camps open next month. Williams will likely sign with a team before the regular season begins.

Try that on for size

When training camp opens, the Ravens will be sporting an extra layer of cushion on top of their helmets to potentially cut down on concussions.

The players look like “The Great Gazoo,” a fictional character from “The Flintstones.”

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“It’s called a Guardian Cap,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a concussion-type of protection. So, obviously, it’s to lessen the blow, especially for the linemen, who have more of the multiple contacts in practice. It’s required for the whole team in the first two weeks of training camp, for all the front-seven guys. It’s not required now, so they have the choice not to wear it. And we pretty much put all the rookies in it, as a matter of … they’re rookies, so we’re requiring them to do it. But in training camp, you’ll see all those guys in it for the first two weeks.”

Badie breaking out

Rookie running back Tyler Badie, a sixth-round pick out of Missouri, continues to impress, especially catching passes out of the backfield. But on Wednesday, he caught Roman’s eyes with a couple of jump cuts on runs out of the backfield. Badie, a former Friends School star, knows how to hide his 5-8, 197-pound frame behind blockers and then accelerate to daylight.

“His movement skills are really good, and I saw a couple of nice jump cuts,” Roman said. “Now, when the pads come on, we’ll get a better indication.”


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