Waller Shows Promise at Tight End
The Ravens second open practice at M&T Bank Stadium featured a laser show and fireworks. But the fans that showed up were treated to explosives even earlier courtesy of rookie RB Kenneth Dixon.
Dixon had an assortment of impressive runs, all featuring a mix of acceleration and electric change-of-direction. His best run featured two filthy jump cuts and a Houdini-like escape from a potential tackle for a loss.
Seeing Dixon’s explosive agility was something else. But what really impressed me was his power and determination to finish off runs in the open field. Dixon pushed a pile in the red area on a TD run. And on a couple of catches in space, he bounced off of tackle attempts from opposing DBs.
The rookie was playing at a different speed than everyone else on the field. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be able to flip the field unlike any tailback the team has had since Ray Rice in his prime.
Who Else Stood Out?
• Will Davis – Davis had two pass breakups, one being in a 1-on-1 session against Mike Wallace. Davis was able to maintain inside leverage to force Wallace to work around him, and then Davis cut off Wallace’s path from the ball on the deflection. The play illustrated why Davis – when he plays with proper man technique – can be such a tough press corner. Throughout the practice, Davis stayed in press technique, although he didn’t use his hands much. Still, Davis looked good shuffling his feet, closing on the ball, and shadowing receivers when he played up on them.
• Ryan Jensen – Jensen received most of the first-team snaps at center. He’s been having a solid camp, on the heels of having a strong close to the season as the team’s starting left guard. Jensen handled blitz pickups and also executed a couple of pull blocks in which he was able to locate and engage his target. On one play, the fourth-year interior lineman went head-to-head with Brandon Williams, got under Williams’ pads, and was able to root him off the ball.
• Maxx Williams – The second-year tight end was targeted on a slip screen and a rollback play (a staple of the WCO when the TE fakes a block from the strong-side and releases into a route to the weak-side), showing off his open-field ability. When Williams gets going, he looks like a throwback. He’s a rumbler. But Williams doesn’t run a wide route tree deeper downfield. There haven’t been any signs to this point that things will change.
Tracking Rick Wagner and Willie Henry
• Wagner is in his second year coming back from a Lisfranc injury so everything points to him bouncing back from a sluggish 2015 season. Wagner was terrific the year before. Which Wagner are we getting this season? Well in the times that I’ve observed the former Wisconsin Badger during training camp, he looks much better moving laterally than he did last season. His kick-slide looked good tonight, and other than one missed exchange with a right guard that led to a blitzing linebacker getting past him, he wasn’t beaten when I focused upon him. The bottom line with Wagner is that when he establishes his grip and locks up the opposing rusher, he’s not losing any ground. That was the case in his battles against Za’Darius Smith all night.
• Henry: The rookie is definitely a work in progress as a rusher. There were a couple of instances in which you see the burst and quick first step off the snap. But there were other times when he was a step slow and he didn’t use a counter move to work past the linemen he faced. Working from a three-point and four-point stance, he was stymied consistently all night and wasn’t able to win the snap battle.
• Victor Ochi and Matt Judon are competing for playing time as a rotational rush specialist, and thus far, I’d give the edge to Ochi. The undrafted rookie has a fast get-off and can bend and turn the corner quickly. He was also able to react quickly to a play that reversed to his backside position. Meanwhile Judon’s go-to move is the bull rush and he was effective in spots. But he needs to develop other moves because he’s not going to be able to overpower everyone he faces.
• This is the third practice I’ve covered, and Darren Waller has jumped out at me each time I’ve seen him. It’s not so much that he’s making spectacular catches all over the field – although he did exactly that when he made a diving catch during a 1-on-1 drill against Terrence Brooks. But it’s the way he moves as an inside route runner. Waller explodes out of his release and he doesn’t lose much speed transitioning to the second stem of his route. He’s simply a matchup problem and reminds me of former Packer Jermichael Finley. But the early four-game suspension is a killer.
• Late blitz movement continues to be a theme from Dean Pees’ defenses, and safety Eric Weddle has been a major pre-snap chess piece. He dipped into the box several times right before the snap. Keep an eye on this movement throughout the preseason because as I’ve written about before, Weddle’s ability to move around enables Pees to change coverages on the fly.