Mike Preston’s Ravens observations on new passing game confidence, Lamar Jackson, rookies and more | COMMENTARY

There isn’t as much to learn viewing Ravens minicamp practices compared with summer training camp sessions, but the one distinct difference from a year ago is the input of new passing coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams.

Martin, the receivers coach, and Williams, the passing game specialist, are coaching and teaching on every play. They are either breaking down individual routes or the offensive schemes.


Williams is the more animated of the two and gives off a lot of energy, while Martin is more of an overseer. It’s apparent they will bring some new life to an inexperienced receiver group, which includes Rashod Bateman, the first-round draft pick out of Minnesota, and Tylan Wallace, a fourth-round selection from Oklahoma State.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson on contract talks with GM Eric DeCosta over a month ago. He said he's focusing on the upcoming season and not a new deal with the team.

The Ravens also have second-year receivers James Proche II and Devin Duvernay, while Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, about to enter Year 3, are the old-timers in the group.


Because of the team’s past failures at the position, there were looming questions about whether the receivers were getting proper coaching. That will no longer be an issue.

“Yes, those guys are amazing, and they’re pushing us to get the best out of us each and every day on the field, in the classroom,” Brown said of Martin and Williams. “So, I’m just excited to keep building and connecting with those guys and continue to learn.”

Now, it comes down to quarterback Lamar Jackson being more accurate passing the ball downfield and offensive coordinator Greg Roman possibly installing new concepts. The Ravens have about three months to piece it all together.

Bateman looked like he was going through practice at 75% speed Wednesday. Within the first 10 to 15 minutes, he was back in the training facility before eventually returning to the field. He participated in some drills, but clearly wasn’t 100%.


Wallace was explosive at times and might carve out a role at the slot position.

“Rashod, it was kind of precautionary; he was here all last week with the rookies,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There’s some soreness, some muscle soreness, things like that. We want to make sure we have recovery. I think just from a standpoint of we’re going to be very precautionary at this time and make sure we get the guys the recovery they need and not too many reps.

“So, that was the idea there. There’s no injury, but we want to make sure it stays that way with the muscle stuff [and] soft-tissue stuff.”

Jackson putting in work

I was glad to see Jackson attend OTA practice.

Veterans usually skip those, and even though Jackson has been in the NFL only four years, the Heisman Trophy winner has already won and the league’s Most Valuable Player award and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2019.

Young players develop big egos, and some players wouldn’t have attended, especially when they are negotiating with the team on a long-term contract.

But Jackson was working hard and getting acquainted with several of his new receivers.

Jackson looked a little thicker across the chest and seemed to be more accurate during passing drills. But there were still times when he reverted to poor mechanics, and some of his long throws hung in the air like punts.

But again, he was out there working hard, which is a statement in itself.

“I felt great about the moves,” Jackson said of the Ravens’ offseason additions. “We got a lot of young guys; we got some vets on the O-line. I just can’t wait to put the pads on and we’re going against other opponents to show off our skills and stuff like that, because right now, everyone is rolling, everyone is happy to get back, and the new guys, they’re happy to be here. So, we’re just going to see.”

The only other long-time veteran practicing was newly signed starting right tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Some of the top veterans who didn’t show up included defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe and cornerback Marcus Peters.

Someone asked where cornerback Jimmy Smith was. You have a better chance of seeing him at Jimmy’s Seafood than at a Ravens OTA practice.

Big first impression

Rookie guard Ben Cleveland, the team’s third-round pick out of Georgia, looks bigger in person than on film.

At 6 feet 6 and 357 pounds, he appears to be quick and explosive and works well with his hands, but is a little stiff bending his knees.

Sometimes that’s what you get with a player that big.

Cleveland walks with his feet out like a duck, which usually means he is just downright nasty or a big softy. He could probably hurt a few people in a barroom brawl.

Oh, by the way, he has been prepping at left guard now that Bradley Bozeman, the starter there last season, is at center.

One more thing about the offensive line: Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley better return in time from his ankle injury, or this group is in big trouble — as big as Cleveland.

Oweh a work in progress

Rookie outside linebacker/defensive end Odafe Oweh, the team’s other first-round pick, needs a lot of work on fundamentals.

He has a motor and is relentless in pursuit, but struggles in drills because of poor mechanics. Penn State and Ravens officials made a lot of excuses for why Oweh didn’t have a sack last season, but he lacks technique.

It’s going to take time for him to possibly pick things up, but Oweh is fortunate enough to have a defensive coordinator like Don “Wink” Martindale, who is smart enough to put him in situations where he can excel right away with a limited skill set.

Ravens inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan works with Malik Harrison (40) on his technique at the team's training facility Wednesday in Owings Mills. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)
Ravens inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan works with Malik Harrison (40) on his technique at the team's training facility Wednesday in Owings Mills. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun) (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Sweet sounds of practice

It’s different going to practice and not hearing that groggy, scratchy voice of former defensive line coach Joe Cullen, now the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Cullen usually worked in one corner of the field, and he was often the first voice heard going out to practice. The Ravens did bring back old memories by hiring Rob Ryan as the inside linebackers coach.

Ryan is the twin brother of former Ravens defensive coordinator and NFL head coach Rex Ryan. They sound alike, except Rob uses more expletives. The team might have to muzzle him if fans are invited to training camp.

Next step

Rookie full back/tight end Ben Mason, a fifth-round pick out of Michigan, must be a great blocker because he sure doesn’t run pass patterns extremely well.

In fact, his feet are so heavy you can hear his footsteps on the sideline when he goes in motion. But he has only been on the field for a limited time.

Maybe he turns on the burners when the media isn’t watching.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun