Even if you didn’t know that the Ravens hired a new offensive coordinator you would still sense that something has changed when watching the team’s offense practice.
There’s more attention to detail. More focus on fundamentals. More repetitions.
The pacing is quicker and the execution seems more precise, particularly at this early stage of development.
Players across the board will tell you that Kubiak’s offense is simpler, easier to grasp and when that happens athleticism takes over. Things happen faster and that creates opportunity.
“The biggest thing that I’m impressed with, among many things, is how well-built the offense is. The offense is really well organized. It’s built in such a way that it can be executed with speed and with confidence, and that’s the goal.”
Keeping in mind that contact is limited and the players are wearing only jerseys, shorts and helmets, here are few takeaways from yesterday’s practice on the offensive side of the ball…
Despite the fact that the offense overall looks sharp in terms of execution, ironically Joe Flacco hasn’t played particularly well. Fundamentally he looks sound, paying more attention to footwork, looking off safeties while refining his ball skills, particularly with play action. But his decision-making and accuracy aren’t yet in synch. For now we’ll give him a pass since he’s the commander of a new offense.
That said Flacco has been guilty of throwing into zone coverage as if it were man and he’s been behind receivers. The Ravens want more YAC but if that is to happen Flacco can’t be slowing down open receivers by forcing them to adjust to late or inaccurate passes. Joe was intercepted a few times during practice, once by Jimmy Smith who took it to the house and finished off the Pick 6 in fine Mr. Olympic form…Tyrod Taylor is explosive when executing a staple of Kubiak’s offense – the waggle. Keith Wenning has poise but struggled with throws inside the hash marks and on deep throws. His game seems to be the short to intermediate throws to the outside – at least so far.
The running backs who stood out on Wednesday as Bernard Pierce continues his recovery and is limited, are Ray Rice and Justin Forsett – particularly the latter. Forsett is the quickest player on the field and has left defenders on the ground seemingly with broken ankles thanks to his outstanding change of direction skills. He has nice hands and a familiarity with Kubiak’s offense. Both backs have been very productive and decisive on stretch runs, particularly those to the right. Their reads have been solid and they are finding daylight cutting back to the left.
Steve Smith was the standout among the receiving corps yesterday. He found daylight in short spaces and split a double-team to complete a long connection with Flacco. The pass was thrown behind Smith but it’s possible that Flacco targeted the back shoulder to avoid Matt Elam who was closing from the inside. Earlier during the practice Smith beat Chykie Brown on a quick slant and then split defenders to take it in for the score…Marlon Brown continues to look sharp, showing strong hands and precise route running. He has also shown some veteran savvy when quitting on a route after seeing Flacco flushed from the pocket. Brown worked his way back to his quarterback to haul in the pass finished off by some nifty toe-tapping along the sideline.
Michael Campanaro (wearing No. 6) was on the field but did not participate in scrimmaging. He was restricted to just uncontested route-running, pitch and catch with the quarterbacks…A receiver who has shown well so far is UDFA Jace Davis out of Northern-Colorado. He’s worth keeping an eye on as the competitive intensity is dialed up. Another UDFA WR that we’ll keep tabs on is Jeremy Butler…Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels are both practicing like polished professionals. Crockett Gilmore will benefit. He looks the part physically and catches what is thrown his way but as rookies often do, he seems a bit hesitant. That should flush out with repetitions and tutelage from his positional vets…Kyle Juszczyk is a polished ball catcher.
Last season the offensive line was a disaster. During these OTAs it looks like a well-oiled machine when executing stretch runs. Perhaps it’s the singularity of voice in coaching. It could be the play design is better. Maybe the combination of talent is more complementary. Possibly with some health issues behind them the players are functioning closer to 100%. More than likely it’s all of the above.
The standouts from my vantage point so far are Kelechi Osemele and Jeremy Zuttah. Osemele is in great shape and is practicing with passion. Zuttah is very quick and gets to the second level almost effortlessly. Eugene Monroe is in excellent shape and is embracing a leadership role. At right tackle so far, it would appear the job will be won by Ricky Wagner or Ryan Jensen. The team rarely mentions Jah Reid whose commitment is questionable at best. UDFA James Hurst is coming along slowly.
Many still wonder if the Ravens will test the free agent market for a right tackle and that remains a possibility if Wagner and Jensen aren’t up to the task. But don’t count on that any time soon and don’t count on Osemele bumping out to right tackle. The team is borderline giddy over the prospects of Monroe and KO becoming a dynamic tandem on the left.
Obviously the Ravens don’t want to move on FA tackle Eric Winston, at least not yet. Word is that the team isn’t impressed with the way Winston has played in recent seasons and given his status as NFLPA president Winston’s commitment as a player could come into question. Time will tell but the guess here is that IF Winston becomes a Raven it only happens after Wagner/Jensen fails and a more desirable (and at this point unknown) free agent isn’t available.
But at the end of the day, or at least the most recent OTAs, the offensive line is clearly on the road to recovery.
And if that continues, so too will be the Baltimore Ravens.