The biggest storyline heading into the Ravens’ organized team activity Thursday, the first one open to reporters, is not what veteran quarterback Joe Flacco does. It’s what he says.
Flacco hasn’t publicly addressed the Ravens selecting his potential successor, former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, in last month’s draft. He’s scheduled to speak to reporters following Thursday’s workout.
As far as the happenings on the field, Thursday’s workout offers the most extensive glimpse yet at a Ravens’ roster that has undergone significant changes this offseason. More than 45 percent of the players on the roster were not with the organization at this time last year. The turnover is particularly evident at the offensive skill positions.
There is only so much that can be gleaned from practices where contact is prohibited, most of the participants are in athletic shorts and some of the more accomplished veterans opt to skip the “voluntary” sessions. No position battles will be decided in the OTA portion of the offseason, which lasts for three weeks and leads into the mandatory minicamp from June 12-14.
However, NFL teams consider this period to be an important part of the roster building and evaluation process. For the Ravens, the next three weeks figure to provide some clarity on …
It wasn’t a coincidence that during the team’s first OTA this week, the Ravens’ official Twitter feed put out a short video that featured Flacco and Jackson exchanging pleasantries. The relationship between the two has gotten plenty of attention after Jackson acknowledged during the rookie minicamp earlier this month that he had yet to speak with the team’s long-time starter.
How Flacco, who keeps to himself when he’s not at the team facility, ultimately “welcomed” the first-round quarterback makes for great media conversation, but it’s hardly a big deal in the grand scheme of things. However, Flacco’s mindset is certainly a worthy topic of discussion.
He’ll enter the 2018 season under more scrutiny than perhaps ever before. He’s 33 years old, he’s dealt with significant knee and back injuries and his play has regressed since the start of 2015. For the first time in his NFL career, he now has a talented young quarterback behind him who will be groomed as his successor. If Flacco’s struggles continue into the 2018 season, the calls for Jackson will only grow louder.
It would be surprising if Flacco, who is pretty savvy in his dealings with reporters, adds any fuel to the team’s long-term quarterback questions with his comments Thursday. But he’s never really dealt with questions of that nature, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts.
The team’s health
The Ravens surely didn’t need to hear about Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry tearing his ACL Tuesday’s in OTAs to know about the injury risks every time players take the field. During last year’s OTA sessions, the Ravens lost top slot cornerback, Tavon Young, to a torn ACL and witnessed tight end Dennis Pitta dislocating his hip for the third time, an injury that ended his career.
The most important development that can come out of these OTAs for coach John Harbaugh and company is a mostly healthy roster. Good health has been elusive to the Ravens in recent years, particularly during the various summer practices.
A large contingent of Ravens are already on the mend after missing most, if not all of last season, because of injuries. Among the players practicing this week who are coming off significant injuries or surgeries are running back Kenneth Dixon (knee), wide receiver Tim White (thumb), offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Nico Siragusa (knee), defensive lineman Carl Davis (shoulder) and Young.
Other key players, mainly right guard Marshal Yanda (leg) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles), are still working their way back. Injuries happen to every team, but losing guys at this time of the year in non-contact practices is particularly hard to swallow.
The new-look receiving corps
As he promised, general manager Ozzie Newsome revamped the wide receiver room this offseason. Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro (River Hill) are now ex-Ravens. Veterans Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV were brought in to replace them.
The Ravens also drafted Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley, signed DeVier Posey out of the Canadian Football League and added three undrafted free-agent pass catchers. Of the 12 receivers that have been on the field this week, just two (Chris Moore and Breshad Perriman) played in a regular-season game with the Ravens last season.
The OTAs are an important time for Flacco to start having chemistry with his overhauled wide receiver group. It’s also just the beginning for what figures to be an interesting roster competition that will heat up during training camp. With Crabtree, Brown and Snead heading the depth chart at the position and Moore expected to make the team as a return man and core special teamer, that probably leaves no more than two other roster spots for a large group of receivers.
Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense
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The only player who started a game on defense for the Ravens last year that is no longer with the team is safety Lardarius Webb, who was released in March. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes on that side of the ball.
Key players, like outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Eric Weddle, are already raving about the influence that Martindale has had on the defense in his early days as the new coordinator. Martindale, the team’s former linebackers coach, has vowed to be aggressive.
The Ravens are unlikely to show a whole lot at this time of the year, so changes in Martindale’s approach compared to his predecessor, Dean Pees, probably won’t be all that noticeable immediately. However, there will be a lot of young defensive players jockeying for snaps and bigger roles and that competition bears watching.
The readiness of the rookie class
The Ravens’ 12-man draft class is tied for the biggest in franchise history. Jackson is garnering the most attention for obvious reasons, but he’s not expected to play right away.
Tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, and perhaps offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., are in position to provide more immediate returns.
Hurst, a first-round pick, and Andrews, a third-rounder, will be given the opportunity to become the down-field receiving options the Ravens lacked at tight end last year. Brown, meanwhile, will compete with veteran James Hurst for the starting right tackle job.
Rookies are still in the very early stages of their transition to the NFL, so it would be foolish to judge them off how they look during OTAs. These repetitions, though, are very important for first-year players.