The first day of full-team practices featured plenty of contact and notable plays. In particular, in 11-on-11 drills, the backs were given free rein to pierce the middle of the defensive front, and the corners were active in defending passes and stopping ball carriers downfield.
Here are key observations and notes from today’s morning session:
· Formations and Fronts: The offense primarily operated from the spread formation, with backs splitting out wide. Even fullbacks Le’Ron McClain and Jason Cook, who are not the fleetest of foot, lined up in the slot and out wide. The backs were very active catching passes in the flats.
The offense was motion heavy, with at least two offensive players taking turns moving before the snap. In addition, wide receiver Mark Clayton traversed all over the field – out of the backfield, out wide and from the slot.
It is clear that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will continue to exploit Clayton’s versatility.
Defensively, there was a nice mix of blitzes, including familiar crossers (where the two inside backers cross blitz up the gut).
On most plays, the weakside backer was responsible for getting upfield to attack the line and to split a gap. Also, the outside linebackers were active on pass routes and had little trouble running with receivers in open space.
· Who Stood Out?
– Marcus Smith: Although his hands were a bit shaky, the second-year wideout was the primary slot receiver when the starting offense was in a three-wide set. Smith ran the slant route, and was quarterback Joe Flacco’s primary read on at least three different snaps during 11-on-11 drills. On two of those throws, Smith had to break stride and adjust his body to snag an inaccurate pass. Another role that Smith had to fulfill was as the primary blocker on bubble screens. On those plays, Clayton was the feature pass catcher and he ran behind Smith’s block.
– Ernie Wheelright: Wheelright was the biggest and most imposing wideout on the field. The second-year target made an impressive catch downfield while jostling for position against rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb. Wheelright was also a prime target over the middle and he used his body to shield the ball away from defenders.
· Scouting the Rookies
o Ladarius Webb: He appeared more comfortable defending on the perimeter as opposed to the inside. As a nickel, Webb had trouble turning his hips quickly to adjust to a receiver’s second move coming out of the break. On the outside, Webb was more fluid and was able to position himself at an angle to force a wideout to the sideline. At 5-foot-10, 179 pounds, Webb has a compact build and an NFL-ready body. When he had to make a tackle, he stayed square and did not over pursue. He will do well against big receivers because he has tremendous leaping ability and will fight to find the ball while it’s in the air.
Other Rookie Notes:
– Physically, tight end Davon Drew looked similar to former Raven Terry Jones Jr. Drew is a taller, more athletic player, though. Drew will be counted on to provide blocking when he is in the game. He is a big target who could be hard to tackle after the catch.
– Paul Kruger’s first step is explosive. He also displayed tremendous recognition. On a three-step drop pass play, Krueger immediately peeled off of his blocker, backpedaled and put his hands up to tip the pass.
– Cedric Peerman’s hands were impressive.