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Baltimore Ravens

Joint practices can be a measuring stick. The Ravens think they’re coming up big.

Spartanburg, S.C. — The Ravens don’t have a slogan for this season, and that’s fine by coach John Harbaugh. Sometimes they arrive through scripture (“Chase the lion”), other times by circumstance (“Test negative, stay positive”) and once via a Navy SEAL (“Good!”).

These are early days in the team’s 2021 campaign, far from the time to force anything — not a passing-game concept, not a balky hamstring, not a team mantra. All the Ravens can do in mid-August is plow ahead, through the tedium of morning drills in Owings Mills and the tempers of joint practices here in South Carolina.

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“The thing about those themes is that it’s always something that basically comes to us — it creates itself,” Harbaugh said Wednesday, after the Ravens’ first of two sessions with the Carolina Panthers. “We don’t try to just put a word on a T-shirt and say it’s meaningful; it’s something that comes to us. So there have been a lot of candidates, so far. Guys have said some things. So I’m just waiting for the exact right one, and you’ll see it. It always needs to be something that has meaning to all of us — that’s what we try to do.”

The Ravens arrived at Wofford College looking not for a catchphrase but for a measuring stick. Saturday’s win over the New Orleans Saints extended the Ravens’ preseason winning streak to 18 games but, with so many starters on both teams sidelined for injury or precautionary reasons, offered few clues about how Harbaugh’s team might look, might compete in next month’s season opener.

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Wednesday’s practice was an encouraging step toward Week 1, the kind of two-hour block to build around ahead of Saturday’s game against the Panthers in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. There were familiar problem areas for the team — just look at the gaggle of Ravens receivers rehabilitating on an open field, or the pressure the offensive line surrendered — but the Ravens’ passing game seemed to have more answers than the Panthers’ attack.

For at least a day, they looked like the playoff team they’ve been, and they made their opponent look like the five-wins-a-year team it’s been.

“From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the chance to look at that and just understand what we did well and what we didn’t do well, that’s what we’ll look at,” Harbaugh said. “I think our team held up well. Our guys competed at a real high level. We made a lot of plays; I was happy to see that. Just from a football standpoint, you really need to take a look [at the tape] and see for sure where you need to improve.”

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Wednesday’s practice marked a change in the Ravens’ setting but not in much of their morning schedule. They walked out onto the field — or, in some cases, were dropped off via golf cart — for stretching at 8:30 a.m. They split for positional drills. They met for one-on-ones with the Panthers, then-seven-on-seven work, and 11-on-11 later. There were water breaks. There was booming music.

But no scenes in Ravens training camp quite compared to the raucous punt coverage drills that unfolded early in practice. With groups of Ravens and Panthers players mixing in together behind the play and along the sideline, there was hooting and hollering aplenty as gunners were driven outside the field of play or nimbly escaped double teams to fly upfield. After 15 practices in a row against themselves, the Ravens were happy to have a new target.

“I think the biggest thing is just iron sharpening iron,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “You kind of get a more game-like feel in [a joint] practice. You can’t get that going against your own guys, so it’s nice to go against a different team, against a different guy. You don’t [have] as much information on them.

“The guys we go against on our own team, I know them inside and out — I know everything they do — versus today, you’re kind of learning on the fly and having to make adjustments. So it was really game-like, and it was fun to see. Obviously, it’s an emotional game; you’re going to get a little bit worked up and stuff. But I think we had a great day.”

Not even a late-practice scuffle involving wide receiver Binjimen Victor could put a damper on the Ravens’ first joint practice since their 2019 trip to Philadelphia. The team got out of the morning “injury-free,” according to Harbaugh. Quarterback Lamar Jackson continued a stretch of locked-in play that had tight end Mark Andrews calling him “more focused than he’s ever been.” The secondary was disruptive. Dozens of Ravens fans in attendance cheered on every big play.

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Harbaugh called the practice “spirited.” Andrews said it was “extremely fun.” Campbell likened it to a “statement” performance — the kind that breeds physicality and shapes an identity.

“Obviously, Carolina is a great team, very competitive, and that’s the main thing we’re looking for, is to get better each and every snap, each and every play, and have some good competition,” Andrews said. “Guys came out here today and competed and did their jobs, and there are going to be things that we need corrected, but that’s what this is about. That’s what’s beautiful about these joint practices.”


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