The Ravens’ secondary is still under construction this offseason, but the pieces — maybe the last of them — are at least in place.
With cornerback Kyle Fuller agreeing to a one-year deal, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that he feels “really good about that group back there — I mean, really good about the secondary, personnel-wise.”
Not everyone in the Ravens’ revamped backfield was on hand for Wednesday’s first open practice of organized team activities, but there were enough big names to see the potential.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, back from a season-ending pectoral injury, didn’t give up much to top wide receiver Rashod Bateman in coverage. Safety Kyle Hamilton, the team’s top draft pick, easily won his two repetitions in one-on-ones against rookie tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely. Safety Chuck Clark, showing up for voluntary workouts despite speculation about his future in Baltimore, was at the front of the line for positional drills and the voice of the defense in team drills. Defensive back Brandon Stephens lined up everywhere. Even reserve cornerback Kevon Seymour nearly had two interceptions in a three-play span.
And there’s more help on the way, too. Humphrey said safety Marcus Williams, the team’s top offseason signing, will participate in next week’s OTAs. Fuller, a Baltimore native whom Harbaugh called a “proven corner,” might join him. Cornerback Marcus Peters, meanwhile, is “coming along really well,” Harbaugh said, in his recovery from a torn ACL.
“I think that’s enough smarts where I can just play ball,” Humphrey said. “So I’m really excited about some of the guys that are here, or the young guys [rookie cornerbacks Damarion “Pepe” Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis], and some of the guys that will be here next week, working with us.”
After last season, the Ravens know there’s room for improvement. Injuries strained the team’s depth from Week 1 to Week 18, and breakdowns in coverage proved costly. The Ravens finished last in the NFL in pass defense (278.9 yards allowed per game) and third worst in pass defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
Now the Ravens are less than four months from the start of another season where — on paper, anyway — they’ll have one of the NFL’s most talented secondaries. Could it be the best?
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“I would love to prove it,” Humphrey said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. I would love to make that statement be true. I know there’s a lot of work to go into it, with me being coming back from injury, Marcus coming back from injury, a rookie Kyle Hamilton, a vet Chuck that’s really led our defense the past couple of years. I know we have all the pieces, so I think it’s all really down to the players to just go out there, communicate, be fundamentally sound and prove it. I think we’re in a position that I can’t recall we’ve been in before with just who we have. And I think it’ll all just come down to us.”
Oweh wants to ‘dominate’
Outside linebacker Odafe Oweh’s expectations for his second year in Baltimore are simple.
“Just dominate more,” he said. “Finish. Be there more for my team in terms of making the plays in situations that we need. Being more aware in terms of things going around me.”
A healthier shoulder should help. Oweh underwent surgery in late January to address a lingering issue, and he wore a harness at practice. He was a limited participant Wednesday, but he said he’s hoping to build up his shoulder’s strength “day by day, and I’ll be out there soon.”
“It kind of bothered me a little bit” last season, Oweh said. “But coming from Penn State, growing up where I’ve grown up, you learn to play through stuff like that and not even think about it until the end. But it definitely got a little bit more kind of hectic toward the end of the season. But I’m good now. We’re straight.”
Despite missing the final two games of the season with a foot injury, Oweh finished his rookie season with five sacks and 15 quarterback hits. After learning “things I didn’t even know I didn’t even know,” the former first-round pick enters Year 2 ready to make a leap.
“Even though I had the shoulder thing, I feel like everything else, I’m farther ahead than where I was [in] rookie camp,” he said. “So I just feel better as an athlete. And then obviously, being a good outside linebacker, I feel good as well.”
- Quarterback Lamar Jackson, Peters, Fuller and Williams weren’t the only Ravens veterans missing at Wednesday’s voluntary practice. Also absent were offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley, Ja’Wuan James and Morgan Moses; running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards; tight end Nick Boyle; defensive linemen Michael Pierce, Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe; outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson and David Ojabo; cornerback Iman Marshall; and safety Ar’Darius Washington.
- Less than nine months since tearing his Achilles tendon in practice, running back Justice Hill was back on the field. Armour-Davis, who missed the final half-hour of the Ravens’ open rookie minicamp session, was also practicing.
- Harbaugh said it was “not surprising at all” to see Clark participate in voluntary workouts. “He didn’t want to miss OTAs. That was something that was important to him. And he came in here on Tuesday, ready to go, in great shape, and picked up right where he left off. Just walked in the building, and he was Chuck Clark, and running the defense. So it’s not surprising at all.”
- Tight end Mark Andrews, who saw Boyle during the offseason in Arizona, said he “looks like a different person, man.” Boyle, who’s been limited to 14 games over the past two seasons, is “hungry” and “ready to go,” Andrews said.
- Harbaugh joked that with retired punter Sam Koch now coaching rookie Jordan Stout, “punt practice seemed a little quieter and calmer out there.” But the fourth-round pick from Penn State has impressed so far. “He’s got a big leg, I can tell you that,” Harbaugh said. “And even when he misses, it still goes pretty far, which is kind of cool. That’s good; he’s got good misses, I guess you can say.”
- The NFL and the players union agreed to make expanded 16-man practice squads permanent, according to a memo to all 32 teams. Players can also be elevated from the practice squad up to three times before being subject to waivers. Additionally, eight players per team can return from injured reserve and other reserve lists, but four games must have elapsed before a player can return.