John Harbaugh said a couple of different times Tuesday that he doesn’t think the Ravens’ offensive makeover this offseason is complete. Yet, he sure sounds like a coach who believes that meaningful upgrades have already been made.
Despite losing starting center Ryan Jensen and moving on from starting right tackle Austin Howard, Harbaugh told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando that he feels that the team’s offensive line is in better shape with depth than it was at this time last year. He raved about the free-agent signings of wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown, calling Crabtree a “pit bull.”
Throw in a healthier quarterback in Joe Flacco and the likely additions of at least one more receiver, a pass-catching tight end and potentially more offensive line help, and Harbaugh expects a significantly improved offense from the one that finished last season 27th in the NFL in yards per game.
“I’m sure there’s a math term for that. Exponential,” Harbaugh told reporters when asked about how his excitement level for a healthier Flacco and a new group of offensive weapons. “It’s exponential. How about that? That’s what I’m counting on.”
The Ravens’ top decision makers said their offseason focus was on bolstering their offense, which was one of the league’s worst units for much of the 2017 season. So far, their only two external additions in free agency have been Crabtree and Brown. They also re-signed versatile offensive lineman James Hurst.
Otherwise, they backed out of a deal with free-agent receiver Ryan Grant because of concerns about his physical and they finished as an also-ran in the free-agent bidding for receivers Allen Robinson, Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns, and tight ends Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton and Eric Ebron.
They also lost wide receiver Mike Wallace (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency and either let go of or have yet to re-sign running backs Danny Woodhead and Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson University), wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro (River Hill), and tight end Benjamin Watson.
Still, the offseason is far from over. The Ravens have eight picks in next month’s draft and a little over $11 million of remaining salary cap space to be active in free agency.
Harbaugh said the Ravens are still looking for a pass-catching tight end to stretch the field and complement Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, who are more known for their blocking and working underneath. While saying that Alex Collins is the team’s starting running back, he also didn’t rule out the team adding to the position this offseason.
“I’m really excited about free agency and what we’ve done to improve our team. I’m disappointed in the guys that we lost, but most of that is predictable,” Harbaugh said, praising both general manager Ozzie Newsome and his top lieutenant, Eric DeCosta, with the team’s free-agent approach. “We’re working. Ozzie said that we’re going to turn over every stone and I see us doing that. … We’re off to a great start. I’m excited about our team and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
With so many expected new faces on offense, Harbaugh acknowledged that the onus will be on Flacco to start building chemistry with his new targets even before training camp begins.
“First of all, we anticipate that Joe will be there all through training camp and all through OTAs and all that, and that’s something that hopefully takes place. You can’t predict the future,” Harbaugh said. “With those guys getting the reps and getting really good at what they do, and even beyond that, let’s go to work beyond practice and build that rapport.”
» Harbaugh provided some clarity Tuesday on the team’s offensive line picture with Jensen having signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Howard having his 2018 option declined. Jensen and Howard were both 16-game starters last season.
Harbaugh said he envisions Alex Lewis, who spent the 2017 season on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury, returning to the left guard spot. Hurst was the injury replacement for Lewis at left guard, but he’s expected to move out to right tackle to succeed Howard. That leaves Matt Skura, who started 12 games at right guard last year in place of an injured Marshal Yanda, as the likely successor to Jensen at center.
“I think Matt will be the lead dog there as far as center, get the first shot at it,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll start Alex off at left guard. We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that. … Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman. And put James Hurst back at right tackle where he was really doing well at training camp last year. … That’s how we’ll start off, but like you said, it could change.”
» The Ravens are still exploring their options at backup quarterback with Ryan Mallett on the free agent-market and those options include Josh Woodrum, who starred in the preseason last year.
“It could go rookie. It could go Josh Woodrum. It could go veteran. We just don’t have a lot of cap space to go out and spend $3 million for a proven backup quarterback like some teams are able to do,” Harbaugh said. “That’s not the way we want to spend our tight cap dollars, so we have to find a way to do it. I’m not so sure Josh Woodrum can’t do it. He’ll have to prove it, but he was pretty good last year and he’s got all the intangibles. I think that’s where it starts and then we’ll kind of work from there.”
» Jimmy Smith, the Ravens’ top cornerback, is viewed as a question mark for the start of the 2018 season after he tore his Achilles tendon in December. Harbaugh, though, is optimistic that Smith will be ready.
“[Head athletic trainer] Mark Smith said he’s on schedule, maybe ahead of schedule a little bit,” Harbaugh told reporters. “I’m kind of counting on him to start the season and maybe to start training camp. I’m kind of really counting on him to be there. That’s the hope.”
Notes: Harbaugh said he will not play prominent veterans in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 2 against the Chicago Bears, the first of five preseason games for the team. … While he didn’t provide a definitive update on contract negotiations with linebacker C.J. Mosley, Harbaugh did say that he expects Mosley to be a Raven “for a long time.” … Harbaugh credited the work of offensive assistant and football strategy coordinator Matt Weiss in providing ideas to the competition committee in its reworking of the catch rule, which passed Tuesday. “He’s seen every catch from probably before 2010, but he’s studied every catch back from 2010 and he came up with an idea,” Harbaugh said. “I think that got this whole thing going.”