Final OTA this week is tuneup for the Ravens' mandatory minicamp

NFL coaches characterize offseason practices as more of a classroom than a place to measure readiness for competition. Contact drills are prohibited and several key veterans tend to skip the voluntary workouts.

The Ravens use their spring practices to teach and evaluate players, especially at the ultra-competitive wide receiver position.


Here's a look at several things to watch as the Ravens begin their third and final organized team activity Monday:

Wide receiver


Although it's been widely assumed the Ravens will just plug first-round NFL draft pick Breshad Perriman into the starting lineup, that's not the case.

Perriman is big, fast and explosive, but he'll still have to earn the job opposite five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith.

Perriman has had his moments, especially running deep routes. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound speedster still needs to prove that he can consistently catch the football cleanly to edge Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown.

Aiken caught a touchdown pass on a fly pattern and made a series of difficult sideline catches last week. He is contending for a more significant role this season after catching 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns last year. The coaching staff likes Aiken's all-around skills as a receiver and on special teams.

Brown has more experience than Aiken as a starter, but didn't make a quick adjustment last year to former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system. So far, Brown looks more comfortable with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman's playbook.

Building offensive line depth

With the exception of left guard Kelechi Osemele, the Ravens' starting offensive line hasn't participated in OTAs.

Center Jeremy Zuttah (hip) and right tackle Rick Wagner (Lisfranc foot sprain) are recuperating from surgeries and should be full-go by training camp. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have exercised their veterans' prerogative to work out on their own, so far. Both are expected to attend a mandatory minicamp in two weeks.


During the starting linemen's absence, left tackle James Hurst, guard John Urschel and center Ryan Jensen have been able to pick up valuable reps and extra time working with offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

Because this is a contract year for Osemele and Yanda — no deals are imminent and the Ravens are unlikely to sign more than one of them to a big contract, according to NFL sources — the development of Urschel and rookie guard Robert Myers is critical.

Monroe has vowed to have a resurgent year after struggling with his health and performance last season. It will be difficult to gauge his progress until he reports to the Ravens' training complex.

Young pass rushers

Rookie outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith has displayed explosiveness and good instincts during his first set of NFL practices.

The Ravens are optimistic that Smith could be groomed as a replacement for outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who signed a five-year, $39 million contract with the Chicago Bears in March.


Strongside outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw has proven he's a capable run-stopper, but has never been much of a threat as a pass rusher. He had zero sacks last season, and has just three sacks in three NFL seasons. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, Upshaw is expected to get more opportunities to go after quarterbacks on third downs this season.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome have made it a point to single out defensive end Steven Means, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fifth-round draft pick who was signed to a $510,000, one-year deal this offseason.

Means is athletic, but completely unproven. He's played sparingly in the NFL and had six career tackles in 11 games with the Buccaneers. Means was prolific at the University of Buffalo, where he made 185 tackles, including 291/2 for a loss, 181/2 sacks, two interceptions and block five kicks in his career.

Offensive continuity

Along with defensive coordinator Dean Pees and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, Trestman is scheduled to talk with reporters Monday.

There's plenty of curiosity about what kind of imprint Trestman will put on the offense. With the Chicago Bears, Trestman emphasized a vertical passing game while also frequently targeting running backs and tight ends.


One topic lacking mystery is the running game, which remains largely unchanged. The Ravens will use the zone blocking system that proved successful last year when running back Justin Forsett rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns as the replacement for Ray Rice.

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"No, not at all," Forsett said last week when asked if the running game feels different. "It's basically the same stuff, same terminology in the run game, so smooth transition."


In addition to most starting offensive linemen, both of the Ravens' starting cornerbacks were absent last week. Without Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, reserve cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin, Asa Jackson and Kyle Arrington filled in.

Signed to a four-year, $48 million contract extension this offseason, Smith has recovered from a Lisfranc foot sprain that required surgery. During the Ravens' first OTA practice, Smith routinely shadowed wide receivers and appeared to cut and change directions without discomfort.

Webb is coming off a rough season during which he dealt with a lingering back injury. Healthy again, he has been absent from offseason practices, with his wife in the later stages of pregnancy.


In the past, some veterans have chosen to attend the final OTA as a tuneup heading into the three-day mandatory minicamp scheduled from June 16 to June 18.

Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and defensive end Chris Canty have also missed OTA practices.