Wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been the story from the first week of the Ravens' organized team activities, so naturally I wrote about him after the first practice reporters were allowed to watch. Check out the story here. Here are my non-Perriman observations from Thursday's practice.
This is hardly unexpected given the Ravens' additions this offseason, but the defense looked ahead of the offense at this way-too-early-to-make-any-conclusions juncture. The defense picked off Ravens quarterbacks three times with Brandon Carr, Boseko Lokembo and Maurice Canady snaring interceptions. The offense warmed up and made more plays as the practice moved on, but the defense was seemingly playing at a little faster tempo and getting to the ball quickly. They also are a pretty vocal group and that was without Terrell Suggs on the field. The veteran's voice tends to reverberate around the entire complex when he's practicing, so his return should pick things up a notch.
Quarterback Joe Flacco threw one of his best balls all day, dropping a touch pass right over the shoulder of Mike Wallace, who had beaten Carr. It should have been a touchdown, but Wallace dropped it and then spent a few moments admonishing himself for the missed opportunity. Flacco went right back to Wallace a couple of plays later and hit him for a touchdown pass. The quarterback then met Wallace as he walked off the field and the two celebrated the score and talked things over. Flacco and Wallace had a nice chemistry working early last year, but frustration seemed to set in during the second half when the offense's struggles mounted. The Ravens need Flacco and Wallace to be on the same page and with Steve Smith Sr. gone, they also need to feed off of Wallace's emotion. It falls on both Flacco and Wallace to make sure the wide receiver stays involved and stays productive.
Who's on first
There has been a lot of discussion about who was working with the first team in the various position competitions, but keep in mind that coach John Harbaugh and his staff often give the early nod to veterans or experienced returners and make rookies work their way up. That might not be the only reason that Brent Urban, and not Chris Wormley or Bronson Kaufusi, was with the starters at defensive end; or Matthew Judon and Za'Darius Smith, and not Tyus Bowser or Tim Williams, were the starting outside linebackers; or James Hurst, and not De'Ondre Wesley, Stephane Nembot or Jermaine Eluemunor, was the starting right tackle. However, experience is certainly a big factor, especially in OTAs when young players are still trying to learn the playbook and how things are done.
With that being said, I was moderately surprised that it was Ryan Jensen, and not John Urschel, lining up as the starting center for Thursday's practice. Urschel was the starter at right guard, a spot that will ultimately be filled by Marshal Yanda when he returns from his shoulder injury. Still, the Ravens could have just as easily lined up Jensen at right guard and Urschel at center. It certainly makes you wonder if Jensen is ahead of Urschel in the starting center competition. Ravens officials did talk about the need to get bigger and more physical at center after Jeremy Zuttah struggled to hold his ground against big defensive linemen. At 6 feet 3 and 300 pounds, Urschel is pretty much the same size as Zuttah. Jensen, on the other hand, is listed at 6-4 and 310 pounds, but Harbaugh said that he's actually 320-plus pounds with less than 20 percent body fat. Plus, Jensen is a little edgier than Urschel and plays through the whistle.
I've said this before and nothing I saw yesterday spurs me to a different conclusion: I consider a veteran offensive lineman or two a bigger need than wide receiver. But I think the Ravens add both before training camp.
Next step for sophomores
Harbaugh talks often about the jump players need to make between their first and second seasons. We'll see if that's the case with members of the team's 2016 draft class. However, both Judon and weak-side linebacker Kamalei Correa appeared to be leaner and stronger than they were last year. They were moving around more decisively as well. Running back Kenneth Dixon looked very good physically, too.
Canady made the defensive play of the day by quickly breaking on a Ryan Mallett pass intended for Keenan Reynolds and laying out for the sideline interception. Canady celebrated the turnover by spiking the ball before he was mobbed by defensive teammates. He and Sheldon Price will be interesting players to watch this summer. Big and long cornerbacks are in vogue in the NFL and both fit the profile. Canady also probably made the special teams play of the day, sprawling out to make sure a punt didn't land in the end zone for a touchback.
Reynolds did make a nifty leaping catch down the middle in between about three defenders. Where the Ravens will need to see improvement from him is his ability to find seams and space, and gain separation. He seems to get caught in the wash – for lack of a better term – a little too much.
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Of the Ravens' five-man undrafted wide receiver class, the one who stood out the most yesterday was Tim Patrick. The former Utah player made two very nice catches, including one in which he went high and snatched the ball out of the air. Coaches are always encouraging young receivers to go up and attack the football and Patrick, who is 6-4 and 208 pounds, certainly did that yesterday, showing very good hands.
Another undrafted player who looked promising was Maine defensive lineman Pat Ricard. In one drill, he badly beat fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa before getting to the quarterback. Ricard is the type of hard working and hard-charging player the Ravens organization loves. There's a long way to go, but Ricard figures to get a nice look. Just like with undrafted linebackers, the Ravens have a pretty good track record with undrafted defensive linemen.
Tight end stockpile
Every year around this time, we seem to be talking about the Ravens' excess of tight ends and questioning how they're going to keep all of them. And then a few injuries occur and suddenly the Ravens are lacking tight end depth. Thus after talking for months about the team's logjam at tight end, I probably shouldn't have been surprised yesterday to see three tight ends (Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore and Nick Boyle) on the field and three in street clothes (Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams and Darren Waller) on the sidelines still recovering from injuries.
Allen 's decision-making
The Ravens want Buck Allen to run more decisively and hit the hole harder. An example of what they don't want is Allen hesitating before reaching the line of scrimmage. That happened early in Thursday's practice and Allen was touched down by a defender for what would have been a loss. A couple of plays later, though, Allen caught dump-off pass and made a nifty move to juke rookie linebacker Donald Payne. It was a reminder of how elusive Allen can be in the open field. However, he has to get to the second level first.