Feeling cooped up and deprived of your favorite routines? If so, you have much in common with Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
On a conference call with season-ticket holders Thursday, Harbaugh said he’s going stir crazy, just like so many other people trapped at home by the coronavirus pandemic.
Harbaugh said the Ravens have done their best to “turn over every stone and look hard at every possibility” during the pandemic. But as the team goes through virtual offseason workouts, he’s eager for a return to normalcy. “It’s not quite the same, for sure, as being back with the guys and back in the building,” he said.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said on a conference call Thursday that he hopes to clear coaches to return to team facilities next week. That would be a welcome hint of things to come for Harbaugh.
“I just want to get back on the grass,” he said.
Despite the lack of live workouts, Harbaugh offered numerous glimpses of his thinking about the team’s 2020 roster.
He said first-round pick Patrick Queen will likely operate at the heart of the defense, picking up a legacy forged by Pro Bowl middle linebackers Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley. “We’ll play him probably at MIKE, for the most part, right there in the middle,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll let him use his speed and his instinct to run around and make plays in all three phases, to be a three-down guy both in our base package and our sub package.”
He said third-round pick Malik Harrison will probably play on the weak side in the team’s base defense but could also take repetitions at middle linebacker.
“We’ll flip those guys around,” Harbaugh said. “Really to say they’re a specific position is probably not all that accurate. … We’ll just see how much playing time they earn. We expect them to earn a lot of playing time. We’re really fired up about those two guys.””
Harbaugh expects greater production from the team’s defensive front, which was bolstered by offseason acquisitions Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and by draft picks Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. He said the Ravens looked for linemen to cut off outside runs, which hurt them last year and will be used heavily by AFC North opponents.
Harbaugh praised Madubuike’s explosiveness and Washington’s brute power, saying the additions will allow Brandon Williams to focus on playing nose guard.
In the secondary, Harbaugh said veteran Jimmy Smith could see time at safety after the Ravens re-signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason. Incumbent starting safety Chuck Clark will likely call the defensive signals again, though Harbaugh would prefer to see that role go to a linebacker eventually.
“He’s bold, he’s brilliant and he’s brief,” Harbaugh said of Clark.
On offense, Harbaugh doesn’t necessarily expect the Ravens to throw more this year, even though he does expect Lamar Jackson to continue improving as an all-around quarterback. “I wouldn’t say we’re going to become a more conventional offense,” he said. “That’s the last thing we want to do.”
That means Ravens wide receivers will again be asked to block more and accept fewer targets than their peers on other teams.
Harbaugh predicted second-year wide receiver Miles Boykin will thrive under those circumstances. “I think it takes a unique type of player to want to play in this system. … But to me, those are the guys who do well as receivers,” he said. “They’re going to catch tough, contested passes in critical situations with defensive players hanging all over them. I think that’s the kind of guy Miles can be.”
He said Boykin bought a JUGS machine for home use and has worked hard at the team’s facility to rehabilitate a minor injury. “He’s just a big, fast talented guy who’s not just that, but he’s a good person,” Harbaugh said.
Meanwhile, he called the team’s crowded offensive backfield — with Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill joined by second-round pick J.K. Dobbins — “a good problem to have.”
“Is that really a problem?” he said. “To have four guys that are capable of breaking off big runs and making guys miss? I think that’s going to be a plus, and there’s certainly going to be competition.”
Some observers wondered if Hill might be the odd man out after the Ravens drafted Dobbins, but Harbaugh offered strong praise for the second-year running back.
“Justice is a guy that, there’s no doubt he started coming on at the end,” he said. “Second year, they make a big jump normally. He’s really smart and really works hard. I expect him to make a big jump. This guy’s fast. He’s tough. His attitude is A-plus. Just a special guy.”
Harbaugh said the team would have liked to draft a tight end after trading Hayden Hurst. But he offered high praise for undrafted free agents Eli Wolf of Georgia and Jacob Breeland of Oregon, saying one of the two will probably make the team.
In the wake of Marshal Yanda’s retirement, Harbaugh expects fierce competition for the team’s three interior offensive line spots. Bradley Bozeman will start, but with Matt Skura’s health uncertain after knee surgery, Harbaugh said Bozeman could see time at center. He listed new addition D.J. Fluker and second-year linemen Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari as candidates to start, with draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson also in the mix.
“There’s just a lot of ways that we can do it,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to find out in the first two or three weeks of training camp what looks the best, and then let them fight it out.”
Harbaugh reached for a Titanic metaphor to illustrate the difference between the 2019 Ravens and this year’s team. At this time last year, he said, the Ravens were the iceberg, waiting unseen to sink other teams.
“We’re not going to be the iceberg. People are going to see us,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to be everybody’s most important game. So we’re going to have to be that much better just to stay the same.”