Extra repetitions for rookies has paid off for Ravens

As most of the Ravens' players and coaches trudged toward the locker room last Thursday afternoon following the final workout of mandatory minicamp, a group of young offensive linemen remained on the far field.

For about 15 more minutes, the offensive linemen were put through more drills with Juan Castillo providing hands-on coaching the entire time.


This won't be a random occurrence this summer either. Castillo, the Ravens' veteran offensive line coach, typically has his players on the field before the rest of the position groups and keeps the younger ones out there after the rest of the players have gone into the locker room.

Such extra work wasn't necessarily appreciated by the veterans during Castillo's first season in 2013, when he worked under the title of run game coordinator. But Castillo's tireless work ethic and demanding coaching style has certainly paid off with the Ravens, now boasting of one of the deepest and most talented offensive lines that they've ever had.


Starting right tackle Rick Wagner and top backups John Urschel and James Hurst are just three examples of young offensive linemen who developed quickly under Castillo's tutelage. The Ravens currently have six undrafted rookie offensive linemen who are hoping to do the same.

That group consists of Harvard center/guard Nick Easton, Alabama guard Leon Brown, Rutgers guard Kaleb Johnson, Ohio State tackle Darryl Baldwin, Mississippi State tackle Blaine Clausell and BYU tackle De'Ondre Wesley.

"Juan has been doing a good job of developing them in the individual period," Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda said last week. "There are a lot of guys on the offensive line that can play football, not just the starters. That's a credit to the organization getting the good guys in here."

Castillo fits with the organization's and coach John Harbaugh's philosophy of giving the young players as many practice repetitions as possible. It's something that paid off last year as several rookies, including Urschel, Hurst, tight end Crockett Gillmore and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, were thrust into starting roles at different points of the season and none of them disappointed.

"Our young guys probably get more reps than I can imagine anybody else getting, so we put our young guys in positions to compete for jobs," Harbaugh said last Thursday. "These rookies are going to have a chance to compete for jobs."

Earlier this month, Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, who was the Ravens' offensive coordinator last season, brought up how beneficial the number of repetitions the Ravens give to younger players was for the team through the course of last season. He said he plans to adopt a similar philosophy with the Broncos, occasionally resting some of the established veterans while giving young players more practice snaps in the process.

Meanwhile, sights like the one last Thursday – when young offensive linemen were exploding out of their stances and working on their footwork as Castillo shouted encouragement  – will continue to be commonplace at Ravens' workouts.

"That's one of the great things about the way we practice – and the way we want to challenge these guys – is we try to do everything as much as we can game speed or faster," Harbaugh said. "We want to build our execution into the tempo of the practice. … We want to challenge them as much as we can and push the envelope."