It’s difficult for the untrained eye – even the trained eye, to assess the progress of NFL players while practicing without pads and in shorts. What you see, what you think you see, could be a mirage – or even a lie.
A few years back after a few productive practices in shorts, many observers were lured into the belief that the light was finally coming on for former Ravens wide receiver Tandon Doss. When asked to comment on Doss’ practice performances former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron quipped, “Let’s see how things go when we introduce the threat of contact.”
The threat of contact…
When players know they won’t be in harms way they can navigate the middle of the field fearlessly. With the potential of that big hit removed, T-Rex arms go away and players play faster.
Yesterday at 1 Winning Drive was one of those days during the Ravens voluntary OTA’s. Here are a few observations…
Breshad Perriman easily got behind the secondary. On one play running from the left slot he ran a streak parallel to the hash marks and from jump street beat his man. He caught passes rather effortlessly and if you hadn’t seen the choreographed video lowlights of his drops at Central Florida, you would never know the guy has been labeled a player with bad hands. It’s early, and admittedly Perriman was running with the second team and therefore not against the best Ravens defenders. But it’s a start – and a good one.
Another former Central Florida Knight WR Kamar Aiken has picked up where he left off in 2014. Although he’s hardly a burner, he does appear to effectively fight through press coverage and comes back towards the ball. This helps him to create separation and give his quarterback an inviting target. Some players mature later than others. Maybe Aiken is one of those guys. Prior to joining the Ravens he spent 2 seasons in the NFL, one with Buffalo and another in New England. He played in just a total of 3 games. Now the 2011 UDFA who didn’t even play in 2013, is beginning to look a poor man’s Anquan Boldin.
Tight end Nick Boyle seems to wobble around the field. He isn’t graceful and hardly fleet afoot but he understands how to find holes in defenses and is regularly open. He’s sure-handed and provides a big target and it looks like he’ll be a solid addition to the team…Fellow rookie tight end Maxx Williams moves noticeably better yet he was seldom targeted and was rather stealth during this particular practice session.
Lorenzo Taliaferro is noticeably slimmer yet it’s too early to tell if that equates to being quicker. He took far fewer snaps than rookie Buck Allen who moved smoothly and showed some of that Justin Forsett kind of patience while waiting for blocks to develop. He has a great first step and early indications are he’s a solid fit for the Ravens style of running offense. He also catches the ball rather effortlessly out of the backfield.
Many big names failed to post for the “voluntary” OTA’s. The bigger names that were there seem to be those who are working towards their second contract. Kelechi Osemele comes to mind. He was there yesterday and moved well. Steve Smith, Sr. was one of the exceptions and chipped in with a spirited outing. Another vet in attendance was Dennis Pitta.
It’s hard not to feel for the Ravens accomplished tight end. He participates in unit drills but not in the scrimmaging. The team is taking a wait-and-see approach with Pitta but if body language is any indication, Joe Flacco’s favorite target has a slippery uphill climb ahead.
From a distance it’s difficult to tell Joe Flacco and backup Matt Schaub apart pre-snap. They are both a slender 6’6” and the quarterbacks now wear a black jersey with purple numbers that are difficult to see. You have to wonder if the QB’s stand out enough, particularly since John Harbaugh had to put the highly motored Brent Urban on timeout after pursuing Flacco a little too closely on two separate occasions. My vote is to go back to the red jerseys.
Their physical similarities notwithstanding, Flacco’s cadence is markedly more baritone and their mannerisms in shotgun formation vary. And then there’s the difference in their respective fastballs…There were several balls batted down at the LOS, mostly from Schaub and Bryn Renner. Although he stands tall in the pocket, Schaub’s delivery is not as over the top as Flacco’s…Marc Trestman’s offense frequently features stack and bunch formations from the wide receivers. Expect more crossing routes to hit receivers in stride to maximize YAC to flushed out areas of the field.
DeAndre Carter struggled with a few drops early in practice but recovered later on during scrimmaging…Darren Waller caught a go route down the left sideline for a score after hauling in an outstanding throw from Schaub. Earlier Waller’s hands sounded like 2×4’s when a Jerry Lovelocke pass clanked off them…Rashaan Melvin struggled in coverage. After being beaten by Perriman once he kicked at the grass in disgust…Asa Jackson had a subpar outing…Will Hill looked very solid as did newcomer Kendrick Lewis…Here’s something you haven’t read regularly, perhaps never – Matt Elam had a very productive practice.