Through five practices, Ravens training camp has been defined by its quiet. There have been no holdouts, no catastrophic injuries, no quarterback controversies. The biggest news out of Owings Mills, not including footage of Lamar Jackson completions, is that a backup quarterback will probably miss some preseason games but return in time for the regular season.
Training camp is a proving ground, but it can also create problems. The tranquility will not last for long. The Ravens still have concerns on offense, defense and special teams, and the longer they go unresolved, the greater the consternation will be.
For now, though, the questions facing the Ravens are the same ones they started camp with nearly a week ago. A few have promising answers; others do not.
Is Lamar Jackson better positioned to lead the team this season?
We just don’t know whether the Los Angeles Chargers’ suffocation of the Ravens’ ground game in their playoff meeting was a sign of troubles ahead in Baltimore. Ravens coaches believe their rushing attack is sustainable; opposing defensive coordinators might disagree.
But what has become clear since the Ravens’ season ended in early January is that, even if their running lanes are clogged up, Jackson is capable of moving the offense through the air. Far more capable than he was last season, anyway.
Jackson is the only Ravens quarterback to have thrown an interception through five days of training camp (three overall, including two Monday), but he’s shown great touch and improved accuracy in live practice settings. Before the snap, he’s managing the offense, and in the pocket, he’s delivering the ball confidently. Considering Jackson’s limited receiving corps and the top-flight secondary he stares down every day, that’s a step or two in the right direction.
Do the Ravens have an instant-impact addition at wide receiver?
Just four Ravens wide receivers will enter the regular season with a catch in an NFL game: Willie Snead IV, Seth Roberts, Chris Moore and Michael Floyd. Snead was an effective slot receiver last season, but none are the kind of playmaker who’ll have a cornerback losing sleep.
Which explains why the Ravens spent two of their first three 2019 draft picks on wide receivers. Top selection Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has been sidelined since January but passed his physical Tuesday and could return to practice this week. No one on the depth chart has his combination of speed and quickness; with the offense’s reliance on the running game, Jackson needs a deep threat to keep safeties honest. But until Brown suits up, his impact on the offense is just conjecture.
If Brown becomes the offense’s top-performing wideout this summer, he’ll probably have overcome another rookie. Outside of tight end Mark Andrews, third-round pick Miles Boykin has been the Ravens’ most impressive receiver. The Notre Dame product has enviable physical skills, and despite missing most of the Ravens’ offseason practices with a hamstring injury, he hasn’t been overwhelmed by the defense’s talented starting cornerbacks.
Among the team’s veteran signings, Roberts has come on strong in recent days. Showing good hands and running smooth routes, the former Oakland Raiders slot receiver can be a dependable fourth or fifth receiver.
Is there a leader at the other inside linebacker position?
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Sunday that there’s no reason to doubt Patrick Onwuasor’s ability at middle linebacker — “not at all.”
But Onwuasor needs a running mate at weak-side inside linebacker, the position he manned next to C.J. Mosley last season, and a month of open competition likely still awaits. For now, the favorite is Chris Board, who has continued to take most of the first-team repetitions on defense.
His competition is Kenny Young, another second-year player whom coach John Harbaugh said was also “playing like a starter” at the end of mandatory minicamp. Neither player has had a defining play or day of practice yet, and coaches might ultimately work out a timeshare at the position.
But as training camp ramps up and preseason games test the players in full-contact settings, Board will have a chance to cement his lead.
Is Michael Pierce in shape?
The Ravens’ top interior defender last season might have had the team’s most impressive offseason transformation. In five weeks, he went from being “not ready to practice from a safety standpoint,” according to Harbaugh, to successfully passing a conditioning test that pushed safety Earl Thomas III to the brink of vomiting.
This wasn’t just some crash diet. Pierce indicated last week that he still has some more weight to shed, and he seemed committed to his team-recommended paleo program. But any notion that Pierce would enter the season as a leaner, higher-volume defensive tackle now seems far-fetched.
Pierce is who he’s been: a very large, very strong man. He might not have the conditioning to play three downs in a row, but the Ravens don’t need him to. That’s why Brandon Williams and Willie Henry are in the rotation, too.
Is the offensive line picture settled?
Left guard was the offensive line position underlined in red ink entering training camp. The Ravens seemed comfortable with the incumbent starter everywhere else. All they needed was their final piece in what should be a strong line.
Then starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and left guard contender Jermaine Eluemunor failed their conditioning test, missed the first day of training camp and reset the rotation. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Matt Skura have still been getting first-team reps. But in between them is rookie Ben Powers, not James Hurst, whom Harbaugh had tabbed as the slight favorite in the competition.
Instead, Hurst is back at right tackle, next to anchor Marshal Yanda, and Brown is working with the second team, just as they were at the start of last season. Eluemunor didn’t practice Sunday or Monday because of a minor muscle injury, but Harbaugh expects him back soon.
The Ravens have another month of practice and four preseason games to get right. But they don’t appear any closer to finding their best option at left guard, in large part because the competition they expected hasn’t materialized fully.
Do the Ravens have the manpower to replace Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith?
In losing Suggs and Smith, the Ravens lost a combined 15½ sacks from last season. Finding one player to replace that production was going to require luck, or money, or both. A group effort, while more plausible, was no less daunting.
Through three padded practices, the Ravens’ best pressure has come up the middle. Top outside linebacker Matthew Judon is “still getting his camp legs right now,” Martindale said Sunday. Tim Williams’ most notable play was an unfortunate pass rush that ended with Robert Griffin III fracturing his throwing hand. Tyus Bowser and Shane Ray have flashed every now and then, but neither has been a real nuisance. Third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson has been a nonfactor.
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Harbaugh has praised Pernell McPhee, who continues to get first-team reps. The 30-year-old, when he signed in May, was seen mostly as a situational pass rusher. If he proves capable of more — and if he stays healthy — the Ravens should be solid at edge rusher. But that’s a big ask.