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Ravens superlatives: The best and worst from two weeks of training camp

After nearly two weeks of training camp and a full-team scrimmage Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens are moving into regular-season mode.

They can’t turn their full attention to the Cleveland Browns and Week 1 yet; the team must first trim its 80-man roster to 53 by next Saturday’s deadline. But Saturday’s practice was the last open to media. As the Ravens make their final evaluations, only the first 30 minutes of training camp will be viewable.

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Ten days of practices in Owings Mills and Baltimore, however, offered plenty of highlights (and some lowlights) for a team expected to contend for the Super Bowl. From the Ravens’ standout performer to their most rewatchable play, here are some camp superlatives:

Most valuable camper

Mark Andrews played less than half of the Ravens’ offensive snaps last year and was still one of the NFL’s best tight ends. With Hayden Hurst shipped off to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens may lean even more on Andrews in their passing game.

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That shouldn’t be a problem. It might even be the best thing for their offense. Over two weeks in camp, Andrews has gotten open whenever he’s wanted to. Too strong for defensive backs to handle and too quick for linebackers to keep up with, the third-year pro has easily been the Ravens’ most consistent skill player — even more so than Jackson, the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player.

“You call it a knack, you call it a feel — he has that,” coach John Harbaugh said of Andrews, who made the Pro Bowl last season and had a touchdown catch Saturday. “He has a great awareness of what’s going on around him spatially, and he’s also, obviously, a gifted athlete. So he gets open. In the end, you see the result, and the result is that he knows how to get open.”

From left, #35 RB Gus Edwards, #13 WR Devin Duvernay, #30 RB/RS Kenjon Barner and #27 RB J.K. Dobbins warm up during practice at Ravens training camp. Aug. 17, 2020
From left, #35 RB Gus Edwards, #13 WR Devin Duvernay, #30 RB/RS Kenjon Barner and #27 RB J.K. Dobbins warm up during practice at Ravens training camp. Aug. 17, 2020 (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Most impressive rookie

When the Ravens took J.K. Dobbins in the second round of the NFL draft, it was fair to wonder just how much space there would be for the Ohio State running back in the NFL’s best rushing attack. And didn’t the Ravens need a young pass rusher or wide receiver more, anyway?

With every jump cut out of harm’s way, every highlight-reel catch over a hapless defender, Dobbins looks more and more essential to the Ravens’ offense in 2020 and beyond. There are still flaws in his game — the occasional drop or missed block — and he’s unlikely to jump Pro Bowl incumbent Mark Ingram II by Week 1. But his speed, passion and football IQ have been apparent since he bounded onto the field.

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“J.K., I’ve been really impressed with,” running backs coach Matt Weiss said. “I think every day, his athleticism, his physicality, his vision — all the things that make a great running back — show up on the field. I think honestly, though, I’ve been even more impressed with his mindset, of his makeup, which is really his competitiveness, his work ethic. He’s kind of wired a little bit differently.”

Baltimore Ravens center Matt Skura (68) during preseason practice at the Ravens training facility Fri., Aug. 21, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Skura (68) during preseason practice at the Ravens training facility Fri., Aug. 21, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Most scrutinized body part

For the first week of camp, all eyes were on Matt Skura’s left knee. There wasn’t a lot to see.

Less than nine months after tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL and dislocating his kneecap, the team’s top center was limited early at practice, watching from the sideline during full-team drills. But with Skura’s workload building and his performance drawing praise from offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, the Ravens will have to decide soon whether he can help the team more than Patrick Mekari.

No absence, though, has been more worrisome than Jackson’s. He missed two straight days of practice with what assistant head coach David Culley called a tired arm and what Harbaugh one day later called a “soft-tissue thing.” (ESPN reported that Jackson was dealing with a minor groin injury.) A limited Jackson translates to a limited offense, but if he hasn’t already, the 23-year-old has two weeks to fully recover.

Baltimore Ravens wide-receiver James Proche II stretches before practice at M & T Bank Stadium for 2020 training camp.
Baltimore Ravens wide-receiver James Proche II stretches before practice at M & T Bank Stadium for 2020 training camp. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Most jaw-dropping play

With few interceptions and few practices featuring “live” tackling sessions, this has been a camp for the team’s receivers to shine.

There was the juggling catch by Andrews, who tucked the ball just before his helmet landed awkwardly on the practice field grass. (He bounced up like he hadn’t felt like a thing, of course.)

There was the one-handed, tipped-to-himself grab by wide receiver Jaleel Scott over two defensive backs as he fell to the sideline. One Ravens defender claimed the ball had hit the ground. It did not.

There was the deep shot that wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown turned away from, however briefly, if only to hit another gear, before bringing the ball in over his right shoulder smoothly.

And yet none drew as many expressions of wonder as rookie wide receiver James Proche’s full-extension, catch-up-to-the-ball dive early in camp. The catch would’ve been ruled good — if only officials hadn’t ruled the play dead before the ball ever took flight.

Most disappointing development

At this point in any other preseason, the Ravens would have a pretty good sense of which overlooked rookies might be next to carry the torch. With offensive lineman Patrick Mekari and inside linebacker Otaro Alaka making the initial 53-man roster last year, at least one undrafted Ravens rookie has survived training camp cuts for 16 straight years.

This year, with the Ravens healthy, deep and free of a preseason schedule, the future of the streak is in jeopardy. Tight end Eli Wolf and cornerback Josh Nurse had some bright moments early in camp before injuries sidelined them. Quarterback Tyler Huntley has outplayed Trace McSorley, which might lead the Ravens to enter the season with just two quarterbacks on their roster. Other higher-profile rookies, like center Trystan Colon-Castillo and outside linebacker John Daka, haven’t flashed too much yet.

Safety Nigel Warrior, who intercepted a deep shot from Jackson on Saturday, might have the strongest case so far. But it’s too early to write off anyone. A lot can happen before roster cuts are due.

Most overhyped position battle

The Ravens entered camp last season with no clear answer at left guard. Even after the team’s preseason finale, it wasn’t clear that Bradley Bozeman would win the starting job.

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Entering this year, there were seemingly even more legitimate contenders at right guard. But a slimmed-down D.J. Fluker has stayed mostly healthy and kept them all at arm’s length. The former Seattle Seahawk is the front-runner to replace All-Pro Marshal Yanda, edging out youngsters like Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips.

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“I think with ‘Fluke,’ he is a willing, willing young man,” D’Alessandris said. “He will work. He’s a big, imposing, physical body. Now we’re trying to channel that physicality in all his fundamentals and technique, and again, try to develop those skills and get him up to speed with quickness, changing direction and those things. He’s working diligently at it, so that’s a plus.”

Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell (#93) practices at Under Armour Performance Center during 2020 training camp.
Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell (#93) practices at Under Armour Performance Center during 2020 training camp. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Most important arrival

The Ravens traded for Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell because every team needs a Calais Campbell, a veteran whose talent commands respect on the field and leadership benefits the team off it.

Campbell, even at age 33, remains an impact player. He’s snuffed out runs and flashed inside as a pass rusher, just as he did over the past three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But his influence has been evident after practice, too, rallying his fellow linemen after one long morning to run just a couple more times with him.

“If you’re a great athlete, a great competitor, you want somebody to compete with every day, and that’s what we do,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “We push each other. We make each other better. When one of us is a little tired, ‘Hey, come on. Let’s go. Let’s get it. We’re in the weight room. Let’s go to the weight room. Let’s get this early lift in.’ We push each other to be great. Iron sharpens iron.”

Most important departure

After one Pro Bowl season, one confrontation with safety Chuck Clark and a litany of other reported offenses, Earl Thomas III is gone.

The Ravens cut ties with the legendary safety Sunday, terminating his contract for “personal conduct that has adversely affected” the team. While the financial fallout remains uncertain, the team’s need for a quality replacement is immediate. DeShon Elliott won’t have long to prepare for his new role. The Ravens don’t need him to be the coverage star that Thomas was; he just has to do his job in a stacked secondary.

“Of course, I respect Earl and his game, but I’m not worried about Earl; I’m worried about me and what I can bring to this team for my teammates,” Elliott said. “I know I’m going to make my plays. I know we’re going to strive to be great. So whatever I have to do to do that, that’s what’s going to happen.”

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