These are the days when training camp becomes monotonous.
The Ravens have been at it for 11 days and right about now is the time they long to play a game – to pick up the intensity and actually hit someone wearing a helmet other than their own.
It’s time for new challenges.
It’s time to see who is a practice player and who will step up in preseason and earn playing time to start the regular season.
It’s time to address some unanswered questions.
Let’s begin with the good…
The Ravens spent a good part of the offseason retooling their defense. They wanted to get faster, younger and more importantly better. They have yet to step on the field against an opponent but it’s safe to say – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
Dean Pees’ unit is deep and they can beat you in many different ways. The back end coverage is better and the front seven is vastly improved. You may not see it in full bloom during the preseason or even during the first month of the regular season. But eventually, particularly during the second half of the season, the Ravens defense will once again be considered among the league’s best.
Offensively the running game looks better. Ray Rice is Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce looks more decisive and stronger and Joe Flacco is playing at a new level. The offensive line looks more cohesive even if Marshal Yanda has yet to join his mates in practice and they have seemingly been reinvigorated by new “Run Game Coordinator” Juan Castillo.
Castillo for all intents and purposes is the new offensive line coach. He may not be in title but one only needs to attend practice once to see that he’s effectually usurped the offensive front authority from Andy Moeller. And if the zone blocking exhibited in camp so far is any indication, the running game will flourish.
Now for the bad…
The biggest concern amongst fans and observers of the team by far is the position of wide receiver. Those concerns have seen little relief and team officials are quietly concerned. They are hoping that someone steps up but so far no one other than Torrey Smith has done so consistently. The best of the lot competing for the No. 3 spot is Deonte Thompson.
There are lingering concerns about Tandon Doss’ toughness and Tommy Streeter has been awful. LaQuan Williams has practiced well and look out for UDFA Marlon Brown from Georgia. He’s got a shot to make the team.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
During individual unit drills, secondary coach Teryl Austin has his defensive backs run towards the coach’s assistant who then throws passes well over the heads of the approaching DB’s. The idea is to have the DB’s leap up and get a hand on the ball, to at the very least tip it in the air and keep the chance of an interception alive.
Enter Jimmy Smith. On one of Smith’s reps during the drill, he leaped and grabbed the ball with one hand – simply an over-the-top athletic play. It’s that athleticism that the team hopes eventually kicks in consistently on Sundays.
That said, Smith’s camp has been less than stellar although today was a plus day for the 2011 first round pick…Haloti Ngata has seen a lot of time directly over center and that should be fun to watch as the season unfolds…A.Q. Shipley and Jah Reid ran with the 1’s today. Gino Gradkowski seemed to tweak his ankle in Annapolis yesterday and his inactivity today could is probably for precautionary reasons. Reid got the nod at right guard over Ramon Harewood who ran with the 2’s at left guard.
Josh Bynes ran with the 1’s as Daryl Smith got the day off. He called the defensive signals for Pees’ unit…Interestingly Nigel Carr called the shots with the 2’s. Later during practice Carr, a very demonstrative player, responded in an over-the-top way after a defensive stop. The showboating did not go unnoticed by Joe Flacco, who mocked Carr: “Nice play Nigel.” After repeatedly mocking Carr, a player believed to be Terrell Suggs said, “Take off that f***ing red jersey and then talk to me.” Flacco and Suggs have been playful with each other throughout camp.
Visanthe Shiancoe ran with the 1’s today filling in for the injured Ed Dickson. Dickson has a slight hamstring tear and will probably miss the next two weeks. While the injury isn’t thought to be serious, it does take valuable practice time away from the pitch and catch tandem – time made even more important given the season ending injury to Dennis Pitta. Shiancoe filled in nicely and he should be credited for absorbing the offense so quickly.
There were two outstanding catches made this afternoon. The first was on a 10 yard out from Caleb Hanie to Kyle Juszczyk. The rookie FB/TE was completely parallel to the ground when he snared the pass despite tight coverage from UDFA safety Brynden Trawick from Troy. Interestingly Trawick is wearing the same number as RB Damien Berry – 28.
Torrey Smith provided the other highlight catch. Like the Flacco-Smith combo did yesterday, they beat Chykie Brown on a highly contested back shoulder throw down the right sideline…Matt Furstenberg beat Albert McClellan badly during 7 on 7 drills and took a Tyrod Taylor pass 60 yards for a score…Aaron Mellette dropped passes on consecutive plays today. One was a fairly difficult catch in the back left corner of the end zone but a drop nonetheless.
Chris Canty was a menacing presence in the offensive backfield a couple of times today in run support…Pernell McPhee, Suggs and Arthur Brown each had sacks.
Ray Rice left practice early after tweaking his ankle. It is not believed to be serious…David Reed missed practice (groin)…
John Harbaugh wore a t-shirt today that read: “Fix Bayonets.” When asked what it meant Harbaugh explained, “That has to do with the 20th Maine on the second day at Gettysburg – Chamberlain’s charge down the hill. ‘Fix bayonets’ was a command, and it has resonance for our football team. Maybe people think we’re out of bullets, too, so we’ll find out.”