One of the biggest years of growth for an NFL player is from his rookie season to his second; he’s had an extended period of rest and is acclimated to life in the league.
That comfort zone creates production, which is why the offseason training camp started by the Ravens on Monday is so key to their success. The team had a good draft last April and this is an opportunity for second-year players to grow.
It’s a nice crop headlined by quarterback Lamar Jackson and includes tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, linebackers Chris Board and Kenny Young, and running back Gus Edwards.
But the most intriguing young player is right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. In the NFL, if you have size, you have potential, and Brown is 6 feet 8 and 345 pounds.
“Two days in, again, I haven’t seen him a whole lot yet, but Orlando has a base,” said Steve Saunders, the Ravens strength and conditioning coach. “Orlando came in here really raw, and he’s just a big guy. I think Orlando’s strength gains that he made last offseason, and really the whole way through the season, it was just a week-to-week jump. I couldn’t be more excited to have Orlando here for the whole offseason.
“And again, just like Lamar [Jackson] in his second year, some of these other guys, you really see the jump that he makes, because Orlando is another guy — he’s just a freak. If we had a Ravens X-Men, he’d be in it. He’s just a mutant. It’s awesome.”
Brown, 22, has the right gene pool. His father, former Ravens right offensive tackle Orlando Sr., was about the same height as his son, but the older Brown had a chest and shoulders as broad as the Dakotas. Now, if the Ravens can develop Brown into the same type of physical specimen as his dad, he might become a dominant player in the NFL.
Their styles are similar. Both are maulers, even though the dad was much nastier on the field. The son has to work on technique, including foot speed and knee bend, especially since he didn’t come out of a three-point stance much in college at Oklahoma. He sometimes works too high and has problems with hand placement as far as pass blocking. Another area for improvement is finishing blocks, especially in pass protection.
It sounds like a long list, but really isn’t. Brown made substantial progress last season.
“The great thing is they have a base,” Saunders said. “What I like to say is, ‘You can never make up for lost training time.’ Those guys now have a year in the system, so we’re not starting from here [points low] maybe when they came in as a rookie. They have a higher base, even if they’ve been doing a lot or a little in the offseason. So, I’m able to do more with those guys.
“I’d say the program now is even more advanced than what it was before. I can do more with those guys. They understand it better. It’s a great thing. I don’t have a teacher’s syllabus. This is different from last year. It’s different than the year before. It’s great just to build on what we did each year.”
Brown hasn’t been sitting around this offseason. He remembers what happened nearly a year ago when he performed poorly at the NFL scouting combine, which caused him to drop from a possible first-round selection to the third round. Clearly there is a noticeable difference from last April when he reported to the Ravens.
Some of the baby fat is gone. He is more defined in the shoulders and looks slimmer around the waist. It’s apparent that he got the message from then-general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh that a poor work ethic wasn’t going to be tolerated.
“I’m going to do my best to make sure I continuously get better throughout my career,” Brown said. “Going into my second year I have a pretty good understanding of what they expect from me, and what I expect coming in here every day.
“For me, it’s just really been a focus,” Brown said of reshaping his body. “Like I said, it’s been a journey, and it’s been a lot of work.”
It’s interesting watching what these guys look like when they come into the league compared with when they leave. Former Ravens and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden looked like a giraffe with those spindly legs. Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, taken in the first round with Ogden in 1996, appeared to weigh about 220 pounds before both players hooked up when then-strength coach Jerry Simmons. Lewis also hired Kurtis Shultz as his personal trainer during offseasons.
Brown started the final 10 games for the Ravens last season and was solid. If the Ravens can get his game to another level, it would be a big plus for the running game. Most NFL teams have right-handed quarterbacks, so most prefer to run right. It’s an honor for most right tackles.
Brown probably feels the same way. Now, he just has to prove it and become more consistent. A big part of that process started Monday.