The Ravens practiced in their shorts and shells yesterday in conditions very similar to those they will be forced to endure when training camp begins in late July.
This group of OTA’s is not mandatory and as expected, several players were not in attendance including: Terrell Suggs; Haloti Ngata; Marshal Yanda; Vonta Leach; Bernard Pierce; Marcus Spears; Chris Canty; James Ihedigbo (who did get on the bus bound for the Beach Bash along with teammates Omar Brown, Chykie Brown, Adrian Hamilton and Deonte Thompson); Chris Johnson; Antoine McClain.
Many will debate the significance of players who choose not to participate in the voluntary OTA’s. Arguments can and will be made to defend or criticize the players but from my perspective, it’s difficult to make excuses or provide logical reasoning why newcomers or those battling to earn a spot on the team would want to miss any opportunity to practice with teammates. Their motivations or lack thereof at the very least should be questioned.
Speaking of motivation, some who showed up appeared noticeably leaner and/or in better shape including: Bryant McKinnie; Jimmy Smith; Damien Berry; Nigel Carr and Bobby Rainey. One person who appeared to turn into a marsupial during the offseason and sported a hefty pouch around the mid-section was Courtney Upshaw.
Upshaw’s conditioning is rather disappointing. Last summer you may recall the former national champion from Alabama spent a lot of energy getting down to a playing weight in the neighborhood of 270. In 2012 he reported around the 290 mark. For the moment he seems to be at or beyond a rather sloppy 290.
Last year the difference in size between centers Matt Birk and Gino Gradkowski was very noticeable. Almost as noticeable is the difference in size between Gradkowski and his primary competitor A.Q. Shipley. It was hard not to think of Kelly Gregg while observing Shipley.
The position of wide receiver will be watched closely throughout training camp and during preseason games. Initial indications are that Jacoby Jones will be given the opportunity to win the No. 2 spot opposite Torrey Smith. Other candidates include Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, David Reed and Aaron Mellette.
Some may look good, even great at times before the threat of contact is introduced. For the moment it looks like it’s Jones’ job to lose but keep an eye on Deonte Thompson. Coaches Jim Caldwell and Jim Hostler (receivers coach) have been impressed with the former Florida Gator’s route running, change-of-direction skills, working ethic and toughness…Aaron Mellette looked smooth and seems like a natural pass catcher…It may be an optical illusion but Torrey Smith looks much smaller sans dreads.
Joe Flacco targeted Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson often, almost always with favorable results. Both are moving extremely well and both were seen lining up outside of the tackle box on several occasions…UDFA TE Matt Furstenburg (Maryland) looked a bit like Quinn Sypniewski on the practice field. A physical tight end with ball catching skills would be a welcomed addition to the Ravens roster…Rookie Kyle Juszczyk lined up as a second tight end (sometimes on the same side as another tight end) and often as the full back, filling in for the missing Vonta Leach.
Ramon Harewood ran with the 1’s at right guard filling in for Yanda…Jah Reid assumed the same position with the 2’s…At left tackle with the 2’s was 6’8”, 335 pound Virginia Union product David Mims.
The slimmer versions of Rainey and Berry looked quicker at running back. Special teams will ultimately determine their respective fates…Ray Rice was limited but looked quick while flashing sharp on change-of-direction skills.
Defensively the top corners for this afternoon’s workout were Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham. Smith looks like he’s added lean muscle mass…Lardarius Webb was at an unspecified location working with trainers to speed his recovery process from his ACL surgery…At inside linebacker with Albert McClellan (unspecified) out along with Arthur Brown (sports hernia) and Jameel McClain (concussed spine), Josh Bynes took many reps and was joined at times by Bryan Hall and to a lesser extent Adrian Hamilton. Hamilton was involved in the first skirmish of 2013 with an unspecified offensive lineman.
Contact isn’t generally encouraged but sometimes it is unavoidable during OTA’s. On a stretch running play featuring Ray Rice the most disruptive force (with minimal effort) was Brandon Williams. His strength is undeniable and it will be extremely interesting to see what he can do when the real whistle blows…Many are interested in what Michael McAdoo might bring this season. It’s difficult to see him as anything but a limited situational player. His build is slight and seems even leaner than former Raven Tommy Polley.
During a stretch when the two-minute offense was practiced and the speakers blared with a variety of tunes (including Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’) to simulate crowd noise, Joe Flacco was missing. As I surveyed the field looking for one of the four players wearing red jerseys, I notice the Super Bowl MVP popping out of the “Johnny-On-The-Spot”. Hey when you’ve got to go you’ve got to go.
But the amusing part (at least to me) was that Flacco emerged from “Johnny” with his helmet on.
I suppose those things do have a tendency to get a bit nasty.