The Ravens’ workout Thursday was the NFL training camp equivalent of a soft launch, with a number of big-name veterans exiting the team’s first day of practice early, leaving their coaches to scrutinize the players on the fringe of the roster.
At no point was that more apparent than the first ostensibly competitive moment of the afternoon. After more than an hour of stretching and position drills and special teams work, the offense and the defense reunited for 11-on-11 work.
Except the quarterback under center was … not Joe Flacco. And the safety staring him down was … not Eric Weddle. The first play a few thousand fans saw was a pass from rookie Lamar Jackson intercepted by second-year safety Chuck Clark.
I suppose that’s Day One for you; here’s what else was notable.
1. Even football players can make fashion statements.
Thursday was the first time the Ravens had reunited on the field in a long time, but it wasn’t as if they could bound into practice with a special first-day-of-school outfit on. So, presented the uniform of a football player, some accessorized.
Wide receiver Willie Snead IV, already hard to miss with the dyed-blond locks flowing from his helmet, went through some early position drills with his receiving gloves tucked into his shorts. But fashions change, and so did Snead’s hand wear; he embraced the technology later in the day.
Fellow receiver Michael Crabtree was more maximalist in his style. In 80-plus-degree heat, the new Raven wore compression pants underneath his shorts and a long-sleeve hooded sweatshirt underneath his jersey. It’s a recipe for a good sweat, but there was no way to tell whether any part of his body was indeed perspiring.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III, meanwhile, by virtue of the Ravens’ early start to camp, is probably the only player in the NFL wearing nearly knee-high white socks and a white durag. Let’s see whether he’s a trendsetter across the league over the next month.
2. With Lamar Jackson, patience is key.
There were more Ravens fans in Flacco jerseys than Jackson jerseys Thursday, but as the shiny new toy already being compared to one of the most fun toys ever unleashed on a football field, Jackson will remain Baltimore’s most asked-about backup for as long as it takes Flacco to re-establish himself.
The rookie’s athleticism can prompt a fan to yell (somewhat hyperbolically, I might add, given the circumstances), “He’s a phenom!” but Jackson looked more ordinary than extraordinary for long stretches Thursday. He missed his first three throws in 11-on-11 action, and that came after some misfires in position drills.
When Jackson was off Thursday, he tended to miss long. And when he missed, he was quick with a show of remorse — sometimes a clap of disgust, other times a burying of his head in his hands. It’s easy to question a quarterback’s emotional bearing from afar; what’s more important is whether Jackson understands what caused those frustrations and how he can address them.
3. Don’t say fans don’t love meaningless football.
The first real cheer of the day in Owings Mills came after Flacco found rookie tight end Hayden Hurst wide open for a nice gain early in practice. There wasn’t a defender within 20 yards of the South Carolina alumnus — because the defense was on another field entirely. Still, it had been too long since Ravens fans had seen their Super Bowl-winning quarterback complete a pass; this felt like a return to normalcy for them.
The loudest cheer of the day, though? That might have been inspired by the backup to Flacco’s backup. Later in practice, during 11-on-11 work, the pocket collapsed on Griffin. The former college sprinter isn’t quite as explosive as he once was, but he slipped free of the pressure and looked for daylight in the second level. Seeing none, Griffin crossed the line of scrimmage and slid to the ground safely and smartly for about a 3-yard gain.
And the crowd went wild.