For an offense missing its top three wide receivers, All-Pro left tackle, Pro Bowl fullback, starting right guard, starting right tackle, highest-paid tight end, most versatile lineman and one of the best run blockers in the 2021 NFL draft, the Ravens did all right Wednesday.
With quarterback Lamar Jackson sharp throughout a sticky morning practice, they moved the ball well enough, though more through the air than on the ground. They competed in one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens and 11-on-11s for two-plus hours. And, most importantly, they ended practice without any more significant injuries inflicted on a 90-man training camp roster that has become perilously thin at some spots.
It was a day of tough-it-out football: 21 players missing, 80-plus-degree heat, another padded practice. Some draft picks couldn’t finish the session, and another is out indefinitely. Coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman, taken No. 27 overall, would be out for “weeks,” throwing his availability for the Sept. 13 season opener into doubt.
Bateman, who went down in pain Monday after making a cut during a one-on-one drill, has a “soft-tissue leg issue,” according to Harbaugh.
“It’ll be a number of weeks,” he said. “I don’t know how many. It’s not going to be months. But it’ll be weeks. And we’ll see where we’re at.”
Bateman, who’d dealt with muscle tightness in camp and limped off the field early Monday, said on Instagram that the injury was the first of his career. He missed just two games in three standout seasons at Minnesota, both after opting out of his 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Thank you to everyone who reached out concerning my injury,” he wrote on Instagram. “I trust that God has a plan for me. The future is bright, and this is just a small bump in the road. My eyes are set on getting right back to help this team. Be back soon.”
With just one full practice remaining before the Ravens’ preseason opener Saturday night against the visiting New Orleans Saints, Jackson is still no closer to unlocking the team’s passing potential than he was entering camp. He had to isolate for the first week and a half of practice after testing positive for the coronavirus, meaning he missed wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown’s one healthy day of camp. (Brown, who’s recovering from a hamstring injury, continues to work on his conditioning during practices.)
When Jackson returned Saturday, Bateman was limited. On Monday, their second camp practice together, the first-round pick didn’t go for long before suffering the noncontact injury. On Wednesday, Jackson didn’t have wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The veteran addition, whom Jackson found on Tuesday for one of the longest completions of camp, was absent, likely for veteran rest. The offense’s most accomplished wide receiver available was Devin Duvernay, who had 20 catches as a rookie.
“We’re in training camp,” Harbaugh said. “We’re in the middle of it right now. We’re dealing with different things that you deal with in training camp in terms of trying to build our team and in terms of execution, fundamentals. I want to be efficient in everything we do at practice. And I know our guys are doing a great job of that. So that’s where we’re at, and keep moving forward.”
It can be hard when players keep walking back to the locker room, nursing one ailment or another. Third-round pick Ben Cleveland, whose run-blocking ability has made him one of the favorites at left guard, left practice after about 30 minutes and didn’t return. Fifth-round pick Daelin Hayes limped to the locker room late in practice. First-round pick and fellow outside linebacker standout Odafe Oweh, who didn’t look to be 100% over the week’s first two sessions, missed practice.
And those were just the rookies. On offense, fullback Patrick Ricard and tight end Nick Boyle (knee) were missing, along with on-the-bubble receiver Deon Cain. On defense, the Ravens were without defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Brandon Williams; inside linebacker Otaro Alaka; cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (ankle), Marcus Peters and Khalil Dorsey; and safeties Iman Marshall, Nigel Warrior (knee) and Anthony Levine Sr.
The Ravens’ most encouraging developments Wednesday might have come at offensive line, and even there the Ravens are a long way from full strength. Center Bradley Bozeman was active after missing Tuesday’s practice with what Harbaugh called a “strain,” and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was back for his second session in three days this week, working in individual drills. But with right guard Kevin Zeitler (foot), right tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the versatile Patrick Mekari not suited up, the Ravens had to mix and match up front.
Harbaugh said the team’s afternoon “ACT” practices — assignment, communication and technique — help the offensive line develop chemistry without risking injury. But he acknowledged that he’d prefer to have the group practicing together now, and the left guard battle sorted sooner than later.
“You just do what you do,” Harbaugh said. “It’s training camp, and you don’t always have all your guys out there.”
Jackson finished 8-for-12 in 11-on-11 action, likely his best day of camp, but some quarterback completions meant less than others. On one of reserve Tyler Huntley’s longest throws, a bobbled catch by wide receiver James Proche II over rookie safety Ar’Darius Washington, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee had an unblocked path to the backfield. It was a bad breakdown, and yet because this was camp, all McPhee could do was pretend like he didn’t see Huntley.
The Ravens will not have those luxuries Saturday inside M&T Bank Stadium. Regular-season contenders are shaped in the preseason, and preseason rosters are cultivated in camp. That can mean practicing through the pain and hoping it will all be worth it.
“You got to push it to the limit, man,” said Levine, a 10-year Ravens veteran who had Wednesday off. “You have to push. I tell these guys every day .... I know the aches, the pains that they’re going through. ...
“Days like today, everybody’s hurting. But that’s when, as a younger guy, that’s when you’ve got to take the next step forward. How are you going to do it? You don’t know how you’re going to do it. You’ve just got to find it. And you’ve just got to go get it. And once you do that, that’s how you take that next step. And that’s how you keep going.”
Preseason, Week 1
Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM