Training camp in the NFL is rich with hope and change. Each team sets its collective sights upon Houston, the host city for Super Bowl 51. The past is wiped clean in terms of its impact on the coming season. Last year’s successes or failures don’t carry forward to the new season.
Yet last season does resonate because all teams study it to see how they can improve, carry the lessons forward and then implement strategies to correct flaws.
The Baltimore Ravens are no different.
Each camp, we see many new faces. Attrition in the NFL surpasses all other major sports. The Ravens current 90-man roster consists of 25 players (28%) that have 1 year or less of experience. They have 36 players (40%) with 2 years or less of experience.
Besides the new faces there are new approaches, new methods, each intended to improve the team’s chances of winning.
This season we’ve seen the implementation of whistling footballs; we’ve heard that robotic blocking dummies may be introduced; DB coaches are swatting tennis balls at the secondary; camp is but four days old and the words “multiple roles” have been repeated like a redundant chorus in a boy band song; turnovers are being emphasized like never before.
Time will tell if any or all of it translates to wins on Sunday.
But until Opening Day on September 11 arrives, it’s hard not to dial into the changes. Here are a few more in no particular order of importance…
The talent at tight end is hard to ignore. The Ravens have four players who could be starters in the league and they also have two developmental projects that could one day prove to be vertical threats at the position – namely Darren Waller and Daniel Brown. Of note, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman appears determined to create mismatches outside the numbers by flanking tight ends. We’ve seen Dennis Pitta, Ben Watson and Waller face up with corners regularly during camp.
The flanker screen seems to be a more regularly featured play and the guess here is that it stems from two things: 1) The Ravens want to get the ball out of Joe Flacco’s hands quickly to start the season, thus reducing the risk of a blindside hit; 2) They open again Rex Ryan who likes to apply pressure on the quarterback from any spot on the field. Rookie first round pick Ronnie Stanley has been flanked out right at times when the bubble screen is called.
The back shoulder throw has returned. In 2014 the Ravens used it productively but it was mostly forgotten in 2015. Flacco has become very effective with it and the two wide receivers that execute the weapon most effectively so far are Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro. By the way, Campanaro looks terrific. The jaded reactions are justified but if he can stay healthy, he changes the Ravens offense. And he’s light years ahead of Keenan Reynolds who hasn’t come close to approaching the hype that followed his selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
During 3rd and goal situations from inside the 5-yard line (this scrimmaging could also simulate two-point conversions as well) the Ravens used Chris Matthews, a 6’5” target on the outside. He beat Jimmy Smith for one score…It was interesting that Trestman used Terrance West with the first team offense in these red zone situations…Kyle Juszczyk was used on occasion as a runner when quarterbacks checked out of a play after not seeing the desired look. In 48 regular season games as a pro Juice has 2 carries for 3 yards…Ryan Mallett has not looked good and this goes back to OTA’s. Hopefully he’s just a slow starter. He was picked off during the aforementioned red zone drills and he missed a wide open Juszczyk at the front pylon for a potential score…OLB Chris Carter and Victor Ochi had their way with the Ravens second and third string tackles.
Chris Moore is smooth and explosive and could be a surprising playmaker for the Ravens. He was one of the standouts on Friday although he’s missed both practices since with an as of now undisclosed “tweak”. The injury beat goes on and it has become an undesirable regular story. Kenneth Dixon went out on day 1 of camp and has yet to return after John Harbaugh “assured” everyone it too was a tweak and Dixon could be back out on the field [Friday].
Word is the coaching staff is very high on Campanaro. He’s in excellent shape…Tavon Young is opening the staff’s eyes…Mike Wallace’s fail conditioning test doesn’t appear to be sitting well with Harbaugh. His reps were relatively limited after passing the test although he did see more action today, probably out of necessity given the banged up receiver corps…Zach Orr may surprise some folks. He’s looked capable in pass coverage…Breshad Perriman remains out but word is he is progressing with his rehabilitation and he could see the field by mid August.