It’s hard to be as obsessed with excellence as Kobe Bryant was, but Ravens wide receiver James Proche II tries his best.
Over his Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant would wake up at 3 a.m. for 4 a.m. workouts. During the offseason, he’d train for six hours a day (two hours of running, two hours of skill work and two hours of weightlifting), six days a week, for six months. During the season, he’d ask teammates to stick around after practice as “guinea pigs” for his new moves.
Here’s how Proche interpreted Bryant’s “Mamba mentality” this offseason: Wake up at 4:30 a.m., work out at 11, work out at 1 p.m. , work out at 5, then get a good night’s sleep. During training camp, he’s pushed his wake-up time back to 5:25 a.m., a good three hours before he heads out for sticky, exhausting, 150-minute training camp practices with the Ravens.
“Before I knew what the word ‘mentality’ was, as a little kid, I was like, ‘Damn, I want to be like that,’ ” Proche said of Bryant, whom he called his “idol.” “And I kind of took it to heart, and that’s all I know, is work. Work, work, work, work, work, work, work. And that gives you results. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Few players have worked harder or played better over the past three weeks than Proche, a second-year wideout and returner who entered camp on the roster bubble but now seems like a virtual lock to contribute this season.
Despite being held to one catch in his preseason debut Saturday, and a relatively quiet Monday morning, Proche has looked more and more like the prolific receiver he was in college. As a senior at Southern Methodist in 2019, he caught a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 111 passes for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Ravens drafted him in the sixth round last year, and he appeared in 14 games last season, primarily as a punt returner.
Proche learned long ago to embrace the cliches of self-improvement he heard from more established teammates in college and friends in the NFL. He said he has a “1%-better-each-day mindset.” He said he’s come to “trust your journey.” He said he doesn’t worry about yesterday, that tomorrow “doesn’t exist,” that all he can focus on is today.
“They’re cliches for a reason, right?” he said. “So I just listen. They’re like, ‘Oh, do this while you’re waiting.’ Or, ‘Get out there early. Take extra reps. Do that.’ I’m like, ‘OK. You’re where I’m at, so let me do that.’ It’s really all just listening, opening up my ears and then putting it into action.”
Proche is almost never passive in his pursuit. When he still had NBA dreams, he carried a basketball with him everywhere. Since coming to Baltimore, he’s all but befriended the team’s Jugs machine. At practice, even breaks in the action are opportunities to catch a pass from a teammate. At 5 feet 11, 206 pounds, Proche is far from the Ravens’ most athletic target. But his attention to detail has given him the confidence and competency to separate from starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters in practice.
“He’s out here making plays every day,” coach John Harbaugh said last week. “He has plenty of things to work on in terms of our offense and what he needs to do, but I’m nothing but pleased with James Proche.”
Proche finished his rookie year with just one catch on three targets for 14 yards. He doesn’t consider it a “lost year”; as a true freshman at SMU, he sat out the entire season because of eligibility issues. The following year, he had a grand debut, posting 57 catches for 709 yards and six touchdowns.
No one’s expecting Proche to post those kinds of numbers in Year 2. But few foresaw an emergence this sudden, either.
“When you put in all this work in the summer ... it’s all for the game, you know what I’m saying?” Proche said. “So you just kind of pray and hope that that work comes to fruition. So I’m so excited, man. I’m so blessed. I get paid to play football. It’s crazy.”
Ravens trim roster
The Ravens waived cornerback Davontae Harris, outside linebacker Aaron Adeoye and tight end Eli Wolf and placed cornerbacks Iman Marshall and Khalil Dorsey on injured reserve Monday, trimming their 90-man roster to 85 ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.
Harris appeared in four games last season for the Ravens, starting one, and re-signed this offseason. Adeoye and Wolf, both former undrafted free agents, were on the team’s 2020 practice squad.
Marshall, a 2019 fourth-round draft pick, has struggled to stay healthy. He suffered a torn ACL in training camp last season and was limited in training camp. Dorsey, who impressed in mandatory minicamp after appearing in six games last season, has been absent with an upper-body injury.
- Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw two interceptions Monday, his first picks since mandatory minicamp. Safety Chuck Clark nabbed both of them — first in an 11-on-11 session, grabbing an errant pass over the middle, and later in a seven-on-seven period, where Jackson uncharacteristically struggled.
- First-round pick Odafe Oweh said fellow outside linebacker Justin Houston, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is “like Yoda. He just knows everything, and I try to ask him questions about different sets, how to approach that, how to attack that, and he’ll have the answer right away. I really appreciate that, because like I said, I’m new to the game, so I’m trying to pick up something different every single time.”
- Oweh said he calls fellow rookie Daelin Hayes “Twinion” — half-twin, half-”Minion,” a reference to the popular animated movie franchise. “They call us twins, obviously,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because we look alike, because we’re both outside linebackers … But the Minions, and we’re twins now, so it just made ‘Twinions.’ I don’t know where it came from, but it stuck.”
- Wide receiver Devin Duvernay said he feels “100 times more comfortable” after a full offseason. “Having another year under my belt has done nothing but help me. [Being] able to do [organized team activities] helped tremendously. I feel really comfortable in the offense. I feel like I know everything, and I can play almost any position.”