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Ravens vs. Panthers practice observations on James Proche’s big day, offensive line struggles, a dark-horse RB and more

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — If the Carolina Panthers’ secondary learned one thing during Wednesday’s joint practice, it was this: You can take the new-and-improved James Proche II out of Baltimore, but you can’t take the new-and-improved James Proche II out of the Ravens’ passing attack.

After an uncharacteristically quiet few days at M&T Bank Stadium and in Owings Mills, Proche looked like one of the best receivers on the field throughout the teams’ first morning session. He opened a one-on-one period with a convincing win against safety Sean Chandler, and later had had safety LaDarius Wiley beaten by two strides on a vertical route downfield, only to have the ball overthrown.

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Proche’s momentum carried over into the team drills. After quarterback Lamar Jackson opened the Ravens offense’s first seven-on-seven session with a check-down to running back J.K. Dobbins in the left flat, he looked for Proche, running up the seam with defensive back Myles Hartsfield. Jackson threw it where only Proche could get it, and get it he did, leaping over Hartsfield, who was oblivious to the pass, and attacking the ball to secure a first-down completion.

After a brief break for special teams drills, the Ravens offense transitioned to 11-on-11 work. Proche was Jackson’s first target there, catching a pass on a crossing route. When Jackson handed the reins over to Tyler Huntley, one of the backup quarterback’s best completions was a run-pass-option throw over the middle to Proche, running a slant from near the right hash mark.

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Proche seemed to catch a pass at every level of the defense, and in every third of the field. There were the routine-looking completions over the middle, against zone and man-to-man coverage. There was the approximately 30-yard catch down the right sideline over Hartsfield. And there was maybe the longest completion of the practice, a down-the-middle throw from Huntley that covered about 40 yards in the air and found Proche well behind the defense near Carolina’s 10-yard line. He cruised in easily for the touchdown.

Said tight end Mark Andrews, who might’ve been the Ravens’ second-busiest receiver Wednesday: “I know you see ‘Pro’ out here, catching the ball like no one’s business.”

Ups and downs

The Ravens seemed to be laying a foundation for a strong practice in pass protection. In one-on-one drills, one Carolina pass rusher after another tried and failed to uproot, shake past or speed by a Ravens offensive lineman.

Then they’d get to 11-on-11 work, and the struggles of Saturday night’s preseason opener played out once more. In Tuesday’s practice in Owings Mills, Jackson had missed just one pass in 11-on-11 action, but he’d also had several plays called dead because of a collapsing pocket, including a few in a short span. That was the case against the Panthers, who didn’t have many answers for a settled Jackson but still forced him into several off-platform throws and scrambles.

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The Ravens’ woes up front aren’t dire, and perhaps will be resolved by next month’s season opener. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley didn’t practice but is working up to game shape. Neither did guard Ben Cleveland, who’s recovering from a concussion. Right guard Kevin Zeitler has been back for less than a week. The Ravens were also missing Sammy Watkins, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin in team drills, along with first-round pick Rashod Bateman, all wide receivers who would be among Jackson’s first reads on certain passing plays.

But right tackle Alejandro Villanueva struggled against the Panthers’ edge rushers in one-on-ones and team drills, and was called for a holding penalty midway through the practice. Even against a Carolina defense unfamiliar with the Ravens’ roster, the offensive line played like it was still ironing out the finer points of how to defend against blitzes and defensive line stunts. At one point, the Ravens allowed sacks on back-to-back drop-backs.

Ravens running back Ty'Son Williams, right, fights for yards against Panthers linebacker Clay Johnston.
Ravens running back Ty'Son Williams, right, fights for yards against Panthers linebacker Clay Johnston. (Nell Redmond/AP)

Dark horse emerging

With Justice Hill still sidelined by an undisclosed injury, Ty’Son Williams is making a strong push for the Ravens’ 53-man roster.

The second-year running back, a practice squad player for all but one game last season, led the Ravens’ running backs with 10 carries for 41 yards and five catches for 23 yards in the team’s 17-14 win Saturday over the New Orleans Saints.

He was solid again Wednesday, when his biggest highlight might’ve come on a play in which he didn’t touch the ball. After a rough stretch for the Ravens’ offensive line, the 6-foot, 220-pound Williams took on Panthers linebacker Clay Johnston (6-1, 225) on a blitz pickup. Williams didn’t cede any ground; instead, he put Johnston on his backside. Johnston got up slowly before heading over to the sideline gingerly.

“You know, he showed that [production] last year in training camp, and he’s just continued it this year in training camp,” Harbaugh said. “So he’s done really well. ... And hopefully, he can continue. I think he will be able to continue. He’s looking good.”

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey looks for running room as he carries the ball against Ravens cornerbacks Anthony Averett (23) and Tavon Young (25).
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey looks for running room as he carries the ball against Ravens cornerbacks Anthony Averett (23) and Tavon Young (25). (Nell Redmond/AP)

Power in numbers

Even with injured cornerback Marlon Humphrey unavailable, the Ravens’ secondary didn’t have much trouble getting its hands on passes Wednesday.

Undrafted rookie safety Ar’Darius Washington had a pass breakup in the red zone. Defensive back Nigel Warrior caught up to an underthrown ball for a deflection. And cornerback Tavon Young had a leaping stop against Panthers star receiver DJ Moore (Maryland) on a deep shot down the left sideline, getting a hand through Moore’s catch window just in time.

“I think depth is important everywhere,” Harbaugh said. “It’s always a long season. It’s even longer this year. So you’ve just got to have guys that can step in, and there’s really no drop-off. And that’s the important part over the course of a long season. So we’re chasing depth all the time, and in the secondary, we have good depth.”

Extra points

>> Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey doesn’t need much space to put even super-athletic linebackers like Patrick Queen in a blender. After catching a pass in the left flat, the two-time All-Pro juked right and left Queen grasping at air.

>> Dobbins had a rare moment of frustration late in practice. After star defensive end Brian Burns came from the back side to punch the ball loose on a shotgun handoff, Dobbins unbuckled his helmet and spiked it at the ground.

>> Inside linebacker Kristian Welch, just days after leaving Saturday’s game with a stinger, was one of the Ravens’ more active defenders Wednesday. He appeared to deflect a pass toward an open Carolina receiver in the back of the end zone during a seven-on-seven session, had a crunching hit on running back Spencer Brown and added another pass breakup in the red zone on a throw to wide receiver David Moore.

>> Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike continues to impress as a run defender, chasing down a couple of pitches and off-tackle runs from the back side. He also got his hand on a pass at the line of scrimmage.

>> Few special teams plays get a team more excited than a gunner being stonewalled. Wide receivers Binjimen Victor and Devin Gray putting a Panthers gunner in an open-field straitjacket qualified as just that.

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>> The Ravens don’t have much of a screen game, and one attempt from Jackson was not exactly a building block: It hit one of the releasing linemen in the back and fell incomplete.

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>> First-year inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan’s not afraid to show a little personality. Late in practice, that meant bobbing in place to Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s 1988 hit “It Takes Two.”

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