I feel like I have to preface every one of these post-OTA observation blogs by offering the reminder that drawing any conclusions from these workouts would be foolish on my part. Still, some players clearly make a bigger impression than others and I can say without hesitation that nobody stood out more in yesterday's session than second-year wide receiver LaQuan Williams. First of all, conditioning was not the issue for him, but Williams looks even leaner and much more explosive than he did during his rookie season. And during drills, Williams showed great speed and tremendous hands, even making a one-handed catch in traffic at one point on a Joe Flacco pass. Williams also beat Lardarius Webb on a couple of occasions along the sideline. With 12 receivers on the Ravens' roster and the addition of several accomplished special teams players, Williams likely faces another uphill battle to make the team. But something tells me that's just the way he wants it and he's more than up for the challenge.
A couple of other offensive players that stood out: Flacco has been pretty sharp and looks as focused as ever. Tight end Dennis Pitta appears to be in very good form and seems to make a play every time you look up. Torrey Smith, who made a spectacular touchdown catch over Corey Graham in the corner of the end zone, looks plenty recovered from his offseason hernia surgery. I can't say I've seen a whole lot of rookie running back Bernard Pierce, but when he has his hands on the ball, you certainly see the speed and power that the Ravens coveted. Recently acquired wide receiver Jacoby Jones dropped several passes yesterday, but he still stands out with his speed. He also seems to be spending an awful lot of time talking to the quarterbacks and working with the young receivers. He'll fit in well.
I've been asked a lot about certain absences from the Ravens' organized team activities and my opinion has been that attendance here – at least by the veterans - is vastly overblown. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis don't traditionally attend the voluntary workouts and they've managed to do just fine. I'm not saying there is nothing to be gained from them being here because I don't think that's true, but I do think there is more that can be lost for those guys than gained. They don't need to be sprinting after running backs or wide receivers or engaging blockers this early in the offseason. With that being said, I was mildly surprised to not see second-year players like Jimmy Smith, Pernell McPhee and Jah Reid at yesterday's session. All three are competing for starting jobs and were robbed of the repetitions that they could be getting now because of last year's extended lockout. But I still think it would be unfair to criticize them or any of the other absentees based on what we know. For one, all three were at last week's OTAs. Two, the media is only permitted to watch one of the three-day OTAs, so it's completely possible that the players have been there the other days. And finally, any of the three could be resting a nagging injury or just dealing with a previous obligation that takes precedence. So again, I understand why there are questions but frankly, I don't know enough about their individual situations to know if the questions are warranted or not.
One of the more interesting moments during yesterday's drills came when safety Christian Thompson, the Ravens' fourth-round pick out of South Carolina State, intercepted a pass in the red zone and lateraled the ball to cornerback Chykie Brown. The move earned him some hoots and hollers from his teammates and what appeared to be a playful lecture from coach John Harbaugh. I probably should mention that Thompson has been mentored by current Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has lateraled one or two footballs in his day, much to the chagrin of the coaching staff. Ed would have been proud of Thompson.
The Ravens have a history of finding undrafted rookie free agent gems, specifically at linebacker. That list includes Bart Scott, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe. It's far too early to forecast Nigel Carr as the latest, but he certainly looks the part. The rookie out of Alabama State has been extremely active during the workouts open to the media. He's quick to the ball and while there isn't much contact in most of these drills, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound linebacker has a reputation as a hitter. Talent has not been the issue for Carr, who had some off-the-field issues at Florida State that led to his dismissal from the program. In July 2010, Carr was arrested on felony charges of auto burglary, criminal mischief, theft of a credit card and fraud. Carr eventually transferred to Alabama State and played in 16 games over two seasons, making 73 tackles and three sacks.
Guard/center Justin Boren and linebacker Albert McClellan haven't been mentioned too much during conversations about young Ravens who will take on bigger roles, but you're starting to hear their names mentioned more and more. Both offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda dropped Boren's name in the group of linemen competing for the vacant left guard spot. Boren, formerly a rookie free agent who started his college career at Michigan and ended it at Ohio State, is obviously a long shot to start. But his ability to play guard and center could earn him a similar role like the one veteran Andre Gurode occupied last year. Meanwhile, McClellan, another former undrafted free agent, was all over the place at yesterday's workout. He rushed from the middle, from the outside, dropped into coverage. He played pretty well when he started the Thanksgiving game against the San Francisco 49ers with Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe both out. There's no reason to believe he won't have a role with the 2012 defense, especially with Terrell Suggs out.