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Ravens 2019 training camp preview: Running back and fullback

Ravens 2019 training camp preview: Running back and fullback
Mark Ingram, Jr., Baltimore Ravens running back, corrects himself a second time after referring to his former team as "us" as he takes questions after his second day of an offseason workout at the Under Armour Performance Center. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

After more than a month of inactivity, football is approaching fast.

The Ravens’ first full-team training camp practice will be held July 25. Their first preseason game is Aug. 8 against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars. Final cuts for the 53-man active roster are due by 4 p.m. Aug. 31.

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Training camp will help shape the roster before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Dolphins in Miami. As practice nears, The Baltimore Sun will take a position-by-position look at the Ravens’ roster, including breakdowns of all 90 players. Today, the team’s running back and fullback situation is analyzed.

One big question

Who will emerge as the Ravens’ third-down back? The Ravens were the NFL’s seventh-most successful team on third downs last season, converting 44.3% of their opportunities, but defenses should be better prepared for quarterback Lamar Jackson’s running threat. He’ll need a running back who can cause trouble for linebackers in coverage.

One smaller question

Will the Ravens keep one of their two fullbacks on the roster? The position has fallen out of favor across the NFL, but in Greg Roman’s last full season as offensive coordinator, fullback Jerome Felton saw over a quarter of the offensive snaps for the Buffalo Bills.

Mark Ingram takes questions after his second day of an offseason workout at the Under Armour Performance Center.
Mark Ingram takes questions after his second day of an offseason workout at the Under Armour Performance Center. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)
Projected starter

Mark Ingram: Even as a running back, the two-time Pro Bowl selection should help the Ravens and Jackson transition to a more prolific passing team. Over eight years in New Orleans, Ingram was targeted 286 times and caught 228 passes for 1,598 yards and five touchdowns, with two passes intercepted. Put another way, when passing to Ingram, Saints quarterbacks (mostly the legendary Drew Brees) had a passer rating of 92.9; last season, it was 89.8. Compare that with the mediocre marks of the Ravens’ top three wide receivers last season: a 75.4 rating when targeting Willie Snead IV, 77.6 with John Brown and 74.0 with Michael Crabtree. Ingram is too talented a runner to be overburdened with receiving responsibilities, but he did finish with 400-plus-yard seasons in 2015 and 2017. Ray Rice, in 2012, was the last Ravens running back to finish with over 400 receiving yards in a season.

Gus Edwards of the Ravens runs with the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter in the AFC wild-card playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 6, 2019 in Baltimore.
Gus Edwards of the Ravens runs with the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first quarter in the AFC wild-card playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 6, 2019 in Baltimore. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
Backups

Gus Edwards: The team’s leading rusher will face questions this season, fairly or unfairly, about whether he’s just another Alex Collins — an undrafted free agent and former practice squad member whose midseason emergence was a flash in the pan. Edwards showed some limitations his rookie year — no breakaway speed, just two catches overall — but largely avoided some of the flaws staining Collins’ game. For one, he didn’t fumble once during his 137 attempts, though he was a part of some botched zone-read handoffs from Jackson. Collins fumbled five times over 2017 and 2018. Edwards also had just one carry for negative yardage last season; Collins, mostly partnered with the less dynamic Joe Flacco, went backwards 29 times during his breakout 2017 and 14 times last season.

Justice Hill: The fourth-round pick showed impressive open-field burst in May and June, which was no surprise. Hill was a regular home run threat at Oklahoma State and posted the fastest 40-yard-dash time among running backs at the NFL scouting combine. While his yards per carry did fall each of his three seasons in college, a rib injury limited him last year. Hill’s familiarity with the Ravens’ running schemes should help his NFL assimilation, but he’ll need to prove he’s a capable blocker and receiver to push for significant snaps.

Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon gains 37 yards during the second quarter of a 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 regular-season finale.
Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon gains 37 yards during the second quarter of a 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 regular-season finale. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)
On the bubble

Kenneth Dixon: The team’s most productive rusher on a per-carry basis last season (5.6 yards) enters the final year of his rookie contract on shaky ground. Because of injuries and a suspension, Dixon has appeared in just 18 games over three seasons, and just six total since 2017. After returning from a knee injury in early December, he was vital to the Ravens’ playoff push, rushing for 117 yards in the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns — all but 6 of which, unsurprisingly, came behind right guard. But he missed at least two open organized team activities, which are voluntary, and got limited repetitions in mandatory minicamp.

Tyler Ervin: The former fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans joined the Ravens’ practice squad in November and re-signed after the season. While Ervin has shown good hands in practice, it might be his performance as a punt returner over the next month that determines whether he makes the team.

Christopher Ezeala at Ravens training camp in 2018.
Christopher Ezeala at Ravens training camp in 2018. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)
Long shots

Christopher Ezeala: After spending the year on the Ravens’ practice squad with the help of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, the fullback and former German Football League player signed a futures contract in January. According to Pro Football Reference, just four German-born players played in the NFL last year. Ezeala will need to impress on special teams to join them.

Patrick Ricard: The fullback-defensive tackle’s season effectively ended Dec. 8, when racist and homophobic tweets he sent over five years ago resurfaced less than a day before the Ravens’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs. But Ricard hadn’t played the week before, either. Though both he and Ezeala face uphill battles in making the roster, Roman has relied on fullbacks in previous stops. Tight end Nick Boyle is versatile enough as a blocker that they might be redundant, though.

De’Lance Turner: One of the Ravens’ top undrafted rookies last preseason (7.2 yards per carry), he was promoted from the practice squad in September after Kenneth Dixon was injured. But Turner himself lasted just four games, during which he played mostly special teams, before a hamstring injury sidelined him the rest of the year. He showed some receiving ability last season and during offseason workouts, which could help him stick around in Baltimore.

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