The Ravens wrapped up organized team activities last week, a series of nine voluntary workouts more notable for who wasn’t in attendance than who was. This week, the team will turn its focus to mandatory minicamp, three days of practices that will set the stage for the start of training camp in late July.
Here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ OTAs.
The Ravens need Lamar Jackson to show up.
Jackson has said he’ll show up at mandatory minicamp. Ravens coach John Harbaugh expects him to show up. The threat of fines — about $90,000 for a three-day absence, under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement — is usually enough to get players to show up.
But until the Ravens’ most important player actually does show up in Owings Mills, he’ll be all anyone can talk about. Jackson’s absence loomed over the three weeks of OTAs, leaving coaches and teammates to account for his whereabouts and, more importantly, showing once more how limited the offense can be without him.
With contact frowned upon in offseason workouts, the Ravens’ running game is hard to evaluate from the sidelines. The ups and downs of their passing offense, however, are easier to discern. Tyler Huntley has had a handful of field-stretching completions in the practices open to reporters, but he’s largely resembled the quarterback who took over for an injured Jackson late last season: happy to spread the ball around but eager to get it out quickly.
With Jackson, the offense’s menu expands considerably. Of course, there are playbook considerations at this point in the offseason — offensive coordinator Greg Roman estimated in early June that Jackson is familiar with 80% of the 2022 scheme — but the Ravens have only so many days to figure out what might work for Jackson and his receiving corps by Week 1. If Jackson is a no-show this week, or if his head’s swimming, stuck trying to play catch-up, training camp becomes all the more important.
The wide receiver room remains a work in progress
In Mark Andrews, the Ravens have perhaps the NFL’s top tight end. As for the rest of their receiving room? With wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown gone, there’s a bit of a drop-off. Pro Football Focus last week rated the Ravens’ group of pass catchers as the fourth worst in the league, ahead of only the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans’.
Throughout OTAs, Andrews spearheaded what should be a strong tight end group. He’s often been the best player on the field, winning easily over the middle against cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers. Nick Boyle, looking lighter and healthier, has played like “a new guy” in his return to action. Rookies Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely have flashed their ability. Even Josh Oliver got a shoutout from Harbaugh last week.
The Ravens’ wide receivers, however, haven’t done much to build a buzz. Rashod Bateman, Baltimore’s 2021 first-round pick who struggled with drops at times in college, has had at least one in all three of the team’s open practices. Devin Duvernay and Tylan Wallace, who earned votes of confidence after the draft from team officials, have been mostly anonymous. James Proche II has been solid but unspectacular. There have been big plays — most notably Bateman’s 45-yard touchdown catch against double coverage — but they’ve been few and far between, hindered somewhat by a strong pass defense and Huntley’s limited range.
Maybe Jackson returns this week and lifts the group to a level not yet reached over this past month. Maybe it’s more of a slow build through training camp and the preseason. No one will care how the Ravens looked in May and June if they’re running by cornerbacks in September. But with the Ravens’ recent investment in the wide receiver position, not to mention their bold decision to trade their top returning wideout for draft capital, team officials have to show there’s a foundation in place for success.
Safety Kyle Hamilton leads an impressive rookie class
The Ravens’ 11-player draft class earned rave reviews from analysts and team officials, and nothing has changed in the weeks since to suggest that expectations should be tamped down.
Safety Kyle Hamilton has been one of the defense’s most impressive players, flying around the back end and showing his potential as a blitzer near the line of scrimmage. Fellow first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum, whose quarterbacks at Iowa mostly lined up under center, has handled shotgun snaps well and helped keep the Ravens’ interior pass rush at bay.
On offense, running back Tyler Badie has caught just about everything thrown his way, even passes he had no business bringing in. His explosiveness is obvious; Roman called his movement skills “really good.” At tight end, Kolar and Likely have emerged as reliable targets and impressed teammates with their willingness to learn. Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele’s technique as a pass blocker is far from perfect, but his size makes him tough to go around. The Orlando Brown Jr. comparisons are apt.
On defense, defensive tackle Travis Jones and cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion “Pepe” Williams have all positioned themselves for rotational roles in Year 1. Jones was one of the top players at the Ravens’ rookie minicamp, Armour-Davis snagged an interception at the team’s second open practice, and Williams hasn’t backed down from any receiver.
With punter Jordan Stout learning from Sam Koch and outside linebacker David Ojabo working his way back from a Achilles tendon tear, the Ravens’ rookie class should contribute in waves this season.
Safety is the Ravens’ most fascinating position
Maybe the most pleasant surprise of the Ravens’ OTAs was the presence of safety Chuck Clark, who had little to gain from attending voluntary workouts but came to practice anyway. He’d watched the Ravens sign free agent Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million deal and then draft Hamilton with their top pick. He’d become a subject of intense trade speculation, even as Harbaugh maintained that he was in the team’s plans.
But there Clark was in Owings Mills, at the front of the line in positional drills. There he was, leading the defense once again in team drills.
“Chuck is going to play a lot of football,” Harbaugh said last week. He added: “I consider Chuck to be a starter.”
It’s still unclear how that might look in Baltimore. Would Clark, who never left the field last season, continue to wear the green dot as the defense’s signal-caller? “We’ll see how it goes,” Harbaugh said.
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Would the Ravens’ new “base” defense feature three safeties — Clark, Williams and Hamilton — instead of three cornerbacks or two inside linebackers? And where would that leave other safeties like Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone and Tony Jefferson?
Would the Ravens entertain trade offers for Clark during the season, or would his durability in a secondary that was wiped out by injuries last year make him too difficult to part with?
Mandatory minicamp won’t answer those questions, and training camp might not, either. But as the Ravens’ secondary looks to bounce back from a historically awful 2021, Clark’s role in Baltimore — if he has one at all — will have far-reaching consequences for the defense.
The roster picture will remain incomplete for a while
Jackson’s return would be a big one. So would Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce’s; the two veteran defensive linemen passed on attending OTAs. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, whose signing wasn’t finalized until the end of May, has also yet to show up.
But even if the Ravens get perfect attendance from their able-bodied veterans, there’s still the matter of their rehabilitating players. Running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee) and Gus Edwards (knee) might start training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list as they work their way back from season-ending injuries. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s recovery from an ankle injury, while encouraging, hasn’t gotten him back on the field.
On defense, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser’s Achilles tendon injury could push his regular-season debut back, while David Ojabo’s could sideline him for most, if not all, of his rookie season. Cornerback Marcus Peters (knee) hasn’t been cleared to return. Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe is coming back from a hip injury, and safety Ar’Darius Washington from a foot injury.
All of which makes projecting the Ravens’ 53-man roster even more difficult than usual. That’s of little concern to team officials, who can’t afford to rush any recoveries and risk any missteps in their rehab process after an injury-marred 2021. In an ideal world, general manager Eric DeCosta and Harbaugh would have all hands on deck for their preseason games. In this reality, they’ll have to be patient with whomever they have, trusting in the depth they’ve built behind their sidelined big names.