Nothing about the start of the Ravens’ full-team scrimmage Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium was normal.
After warming up on the field before a crowd of socially distanced Ravens officials, security guards, reporters and photographers, the team headed to its locker room for a quick break. Minutes before kickoff, players ran onto a mostly empty field through their usual tunnel, the piped-in noise doing little to simulate a pregame atmosphere. Coaches wore face masks. One sideline went unoccupied.
Then the scrimmage started, and the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player looked rather ordinary. Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed on six of his first nine throws, and he didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until his eighth.
By the end of the session, some order had been restored. But the final Ravens practice open to media this training camp showed the team still has some wrinkles to iron out. As coach John Harbaugh knows, they have more than the coronavirus pandemic to contend with in the two weeks before their season opener.
“I think every time you change environments, it’s a challenge for execution,” he said. “And that sure showed up today, but we fought through it, and I think it’s a step in the direction toward playing the game. Now we’ve got to lock in and get better, and we have plenty to work on.”
MVP starts slowly
Jackson ran around Saturday like his maybe-injured groin was back to full strength, or close to it. Strangely, it was his arm that let him down in the first half.
His first attempt, a throw to the sideline, was slightly behind wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and dropped. Jackson put his next attempt too far in front of running back Mark Ingram II, running free over the middle. On his next drive, Jackson just missed tight end Mark Andrews, the ball bouncing off his outstretched hands, and then watched as defensive end Derek Wolfe knocked down a third-down pass.
By the end of his third drive, Jackson was 3-for-9 for 24 yards. After a pair of presnap penalties, he spiked the ball in frustration, then threw his next end-zone shot into double coverage. Only a no-huddle possession in which Jackson worked the middle of the field kept his first-half production respectable.
MVP finishes strong
Jackson’s slow start continued after the “halftime” break with an interception on an underthrown deep throw to Brown. That might’ve been the spark he needed.
Jackson completed six of his next seven attempts, two of which went for touchdowns. (He was perhaps fortunate to be spared a second interception on his one misfire, which slipped through cornerback Terrell Bonds’ hands.) On his first score, Jackson rolled to his right and delivered a 40-yard bomb to Brown, who’d gotten behind rookie safety Geno Stone in the corner of the end zone.
“Yes, that was great,” Harbaugh said. “It was great. But we’ve seen a lot in practice, and we know the timing, but when you get in a game, it’s different. Protection things happen. Move around; you have to operate. That was a scramble play, so that was good to see in that sense.”
On Jackson’s second touchdown pass, the final throw of the scrimmage, he found Andrews over the middle with a 14-yard, tight-window throw. Unofficially, Jackson finished 14-for-24 for 166 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
A running start
The most impressive Ravens running back Saturday was the one who wasn’t even a Ravens running back until Friday. Undrafted rookie Ty’Son Williams, signed after injuries to Justice Hill and Kenjon Barner, had nine carries for 40 yards, both team highs, and a touchdown. The Brigham Young product added a catch for 9 yards.
Ingram had three carries for 12 yards, J.K. Dobbins had three for 6 yards, and Gus Edwards had two for 7 yards.
“This was his second day in the building,” Ingram said of Williams. “But just to come off the street in tremendous shape, to know the playbook, to be able to function and operate in the offensive series and to make big plays, to make big runs, score a touchdown, that’s the testament of a true pro. He earned my respect tremendously tonight.”
It’s a good sign for undrafted rookie safety Nigel Warrior that of the four interceptions thrown in camp, he’s come up with two.
The Tennessee product who spent over a week on the reserve/COVID-19 list a month ago was one of the most impressive players on the field Saturday. On special teams, he helped out on the punt return unit and showed his nose for the ball with a would-be tackle of wide receiver Devin Duvernay on a kickoff return.
On defense, Warrior kept his eye on Jackson’s home run shot, even after Brown had run by him, and high-pointed the ball for the interception. Later, he denied tight end Jerell Adams a catch over the middle with some physical coverage and a well-timed reach for Trace McSorley’s throw.
Wide receivers Chris Moore and Jaleel Scott, cornerbacks Marcus Peters, Anthony Averett and Josh Nurse, and running backs Hill and Barner watched the scrimmage from the sideline. Harbaugh said Friday that the team doesn’t have any active players with significant long-term injuries.
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Rookie defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and wide receiver De’Andrew White left the scrimmage with apparent injuries. Harbaugh did not address their condition afterward.
- Harbaugh said seeing center Matt Skura playing so soon after his season-ending knee injury “is a pretty big deal at this stage.” But Harbaugh said he’d need to review Saturday’s film before he could determine “whether he’s there yet or not,” performance-wise.
- The offense had a handful of presnap penalties, and Harbaugh noticed: “There are just way too many of those out there. Those are the types of things that have to get cleaned up, because ‘winning football’ is not ‘losing football’ first.”
- While Stone allowed the long touchdown pass to Brown, the seventh-round pick was solid elsewhere. He limited Dobbins to no yards on one catch, covered rookie tight end Eli Wolf snugly on a red-zone incompletion, pressured McSorley on a blitz and limited Jackson to 2 yards on a zone-read run.
- Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who continued his strong camp showing, had an interception called back after safety DeShon Elliott was flagged for his coverage on wide receiver Willie Snead IV.
- Fullback Patrick Ricard was one of the offense’s most involved players in the first half, catching two passes and even taking a handoff.
- Wolfe often gets overlooked as an interior pass rusher, but he disrupted at least two drop-backs with good pressure.
- Inside linebacker Patrick Queen had a handful of tackles and didn’t allow much in pass defense, but his coverage over the middle on a few plays wasn’t especially sticky.
- It wasn’t a productive night for the Ravens’ other quarterbacks. Griffin finished 5-for-7 for 25 yards. Huntley was 2-for-6 for 3 yards, though he did have a 14-yard scramble. McSorley, whose first snaps didn’t come until after Huntley’s, went 5-for-10 for 56 yards.
- Kicker Justin Tucker went 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder.
- Wide receiver James Proche was tested often at punt returner, but he made easy work of Sam Koch’s offerings.