Isaiah Likely extended every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame and, with one hand, snatched the football out of the air just before it hit the ground.
Referees working the final day of Ravens minicamp ruled the rookie tight end out of bounds, but his athletic display was nonetheless a highlight from the team’s last week of work before an extended summer break.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson and coach John Harbaugh both shouted out Likely, a fourth-round draft pick from Coastal Carolina, at their post-practice news conferences. “Tremendous catches,” Jackson said.
James Proche II and Rashod Bateman said the rookie had lived up to his draft billing as an oversized wide receiver. Proche noted that his younger brother goes to Coastal Carolina, so he has watched Likely for several years. “I already knew what he was capable of,” he said.
The Ravens will probably start the season carrying four tight ends: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Likely and fellow fourth-round pick Charlie Kolar. Given the paucity of experienced wide receivers on the roster, one of the rookies could easily become a frequent target for Jackson, who produced his best season in 2019 when he was throwing regularly to Andrews, Boyle and Hayden Hurst.
Likely doesn’t look or move like a traditional tight end, but if he keeps making eye-popping plays downfield and in the red zone — he caught multiple touchdown passes Thursday in addition to the spectacular near-miss — he will see the field come September.
Jackson concludes a solid week
Though he didn’t throw any single pass as spectacular as the downfield beauty he dropped over Bateman’s shoulder on Wednesday, Jackson continued to show the fruits of his offseason work with personal quarterback coach Adam Dedeaux.
He threw with plenty of zip and fine accuracy over the three days of mandatory minicamp, moving with his usual verve despite carrying an extra 10-12 pounds added through offseason workouts. Jackson did not look like a whole new player but like a good version of himself, which is all the Ravens could have hoped for after he skipped three weeks of voluntary team workouts to “grind” on his own.
Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban said he told Jackson he would be able to discern right away if the former Most Valuable Player had worked hard in his time away from the team. “I could tell, in the best way possible,” Urban said Thursday. “Lamar obviously handled his business when he was away from us.”
Jackson and the team’s pass catchers plan to continue that work with sessions at Florida Atlantic University in the weeks before training camp. Talk of the quarterback’s contract negotiations will continue to hang over the Ravens, but from a pure football standpoint, this was a reassuring week of practice from their franchise player.
Veteran tackles ‘a silver lining’
The Ravens continue to express optimism that left tackle Ronnie Stanley will return to Pro Bowl form after he missed all but one game last season.
If Stanley’s surgically repaired ankle does not cooperate, however, they have two experienced players, Morgan Moses and Ja’Wuan James, competing for the opportunity to protect Jackson. Both Moses and James took starter reps at left tackle during minicamp, and though it’s always difficult to judge line play in a minimal contact setting, Harbaugh referred to their presence as a “silver lining” should Stanley’s recovery again prove more difficult than projected.
Neither veteran is regarded as an ideal left tackle, and James has his own injury questions to answer, having played just three games since 2018. But the Ravens do have more options to patch their offensive line than they did a year ago.
Harbaugh also offered encouraging words for rookie tackle Daniel Faalele, who again struggled with fatigue Thursday despite relatively cool temperatures. Faalele, listed at 380 pounds, is one of the largest players in NFL history, and Harbaugh said he’s carrying “good weight” but that “he’s working his way into NFL-type conditioning as a tackle.”
Harbaugh has criticized players publicly for poor conditioning, but he’s taking a more measured tone with the mammoth fourth-round pick from Minnesota.
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Faalele was one of several offensive linemen (James and guard Ben Powers were also guilty) to commit false starts Thursday, a sin Harbaugh will be less patient in addressing if the trend persists into training camp.
Hayes makes his case
Second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes was a summer star last year before suffering through a lost rookie season undermined by injuries.
With edge rusher snaps there for the taking, the fifth-round pick from Notre Dame is back to making a strong impression this offseason. He blew past tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith to get after the quarterback Thursday, a day after he picked off Jackson.
Hayes has an assortment of quality rush moves to go with his physical tools, and he played with consistent fire over the last three days, talking trash to the team’s offensive linemen at one point. As Harbaugh noted, his next step is to translate these summer flashes to training camp and eventual game action. The Ravens, still short a veteran edge defender, could use his help.
Jackson and fellow quarterbacks Anthony Brown and Brett Hundley (Tyler Huntley was resting because of shoulder tendinitis) had a good old time competing to drop 25-yard outs into a long, narrow net that Urban used to hone their accuracy.
They clanged several throws off the rim at the top of the net, but only two — one by Jackson, one by Hundley — settled into the nylon. “We were, like, four-for-a-thousand,” Jackson said afterward, though he enjoyed the competitive element of the warmup exercise.
At one point, safeties Chuck Clark and Tony Jefferson wandered over to take their best shots. Both came up well short. “Y’all go back to the other field,” shouted running back J.K. Dobbins, who had stuck his head out of the training room to watch.