It’s the peak of the offseason, and by that, I mean that it’s the ‘Dead SZN’ where absolutely nothing is happening, except Malik McDowell getting arrested for concealing stolen property (I mean really, how stupid do you have to be to think that buying a Ford Raptor SVT for $5,000 isn’t somehow illegal?).
Since there’s nothing going on, I figured it was the perfect time to write a cookie cutter article on what to look for in training camp.
I know, I know. I don’t write cookie cutter articles. But as I sit in this prison that pays me (normally I love my job, but I drunkenly bought a pool last night, and now I just want to go home and swim), I have to find some way to kill the time in between clients on a lazy, slow July 5th (this should also be a holiday), so here we are.
Training camp is just around the corner, so I think it’s a good time to highlight some storylines to watch for.
The Michael Pierce Fitness Program.
Defensive lineman Michael Pierce got off to a rough start in OTAs, showing up overweight and out of shape – so much so that he got pulled off of the field and sent to the trainer. He’s in a contract year, and that’s really a good way to start off. Keep an eye not only on how he looks when he shows up, but also how he performs.
Dings and bruises could signify that he’s still not in playing shape.
Which wideout will show out?
There are 437 wide receivers on the Ravens’ 90-man roster heading into training camp, and that’s not an exaggeration (it is).
While Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Chris Moore are all locks for the roster, the two or three spots behind them are fiercely contested by inexperienced guys like Jaleel Scott, Antoine Wesley, and Sean Modster, along with veterans like Michael Floyd and Seth Roberts. We don’t really know who will net the final three spots, but training camp will be an important glimpse into which receivers want it. Scott was highly regarded in OTAs, along with Modster, but guys like Floyd would give the Ravens a veteran outside presence that they like to include in their lineups. Lasley was productive at UCLA, but Wesley has all the traits you look for in a NFL wideout.
Important things to look for will be who excels at getting open, who is dropping balls, and who develops an early connection with Lamar Jackson (say Jaylen Smith, I dare you).
The Curious Case of Lamar Jackson.
Come on, you knew that this was going to make the cut. The second-year signal caller took the league by storm in 2018, before he even wore the uniform. When he took the reins from embattled starter Joe Flacco after the bye, he ran the team – quite literally. His legs were his strength, not his arm, and the then-rookie took a lot of flak for it (including from me).
‘He’s a running back’ was uttered frequently, and he has some work to do to prove that his arm is an NFL talent as well. He worked with his old high school coach this off-season, as well as some wideouts that don’t belong on an NFL roster, which is supposed to give us some confidence, I guess? He also stated that he ‘might’ work with Tom House before training camp, right before saying that he was going to work on passing with his new wideouts – whether any of this happens, remains to be seen. He also got bigger, which is good to see, because he was a small human in 2018.
But I digress – look for improved technique, more confidence calling the plays, and improvements outside the numbers, or settle in for a run-heavy season with miscues through the air. You know, how the Ravens used to play football before they won their second Super Bowl.
The Offensive Line Shuffle.
John Harbaugh said that the favorite to start at left guard in 2019 is James freaking Hurst, and that scares the absolute shit out of me. Jermaine Eluemunor has been taking a lot of first-team reps at left guard. This also scares me. Alex Lewis still isn’t healthy, and Ben Powers was running with the third team in OTAs. Matt Skura seems to have the confidence of the team, which makes me wonder if Bradley Bozeman somehow angered Harbs, or if he’s just not catching on fast enough.
The rest of the offensive line is beyond solid. You have a guy who’s Top 5 in pass protection at LT (Ronnie Stanley), an All-World RG in Marshal Yanda, and an absolute behemoth at RT in Orlando Brown, who was a third-round pick with first-round talent. The LG spot will be a big competition (big because offensive linemen are fat), and if they make the right choice for that spot, I’m far more confident in Skura, who allowed more pressure from the left than anything in 2018.
If there’s a single complaint about the Baltimore secondary, it’s that the roster can only house 53 players, which means that some talent is going to be cut or traded. As a guy who grew up playing corner, who has a definite bias towards defensive backs, it’s a bittersweet time for me. Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Iman Marshall are all definite locks. You can pencil in Brandon Carr and Anthony Averett as well. Guys like Maurice Canady and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, veterans with talent, have an uphill battle to make the roster, especially with guys like AAF legend Terrell Bonds making splashes in OTAs. Combine that with the fact that the Ravens lost a compensatory pick to sign Justin Bethel, and have a return man in Cyrus Jones, and the cornerback battle is going to be fun, but also heartbreaking. You can watch to see how each corner is used in training camp, and get a general feel about which ones are most important to the $55M Baltimore secondary.
Moving onto the safeties, we face another issue. Earl Thomas is an obvious lock, as is Tony Jefferson. Anthony Levine, the do-it-all dime ‘backer will likely share snaps with flashy second-year DeShon Elliott, who flashed early in 2018 before he broke his arm, and has flashed in OTAs this year.
Where does that leave guys like Chuck Clark, who have some talent, but not enough to be on the field over the other guys?
No rush, guys.
If there is one question about the defense (there are three), it has to be how the pass rush is going to turn out. Rookie EDGE Jaylon Ferguson is the obvious choice to start opposite Matt Judon at OLB, but behind them is a mess of what-ifs and maybes.
Then there’s guys like Tyus Bowser, an athletic coverage rusher, and Tim Williams, a situational guy who struggles to hold weight on his frame. Now, the secondary should be good enough to help the pass rush get home this year, but you’ll want to look at how the older guys hold up, as well as how Bowser is used in training camp. With so much talent at other positions, it will be really hard for the coaches to hold onto maybe-babies that can’t produce, which could result in the cuts of the younger guys who are on their final years of rookie contracts.
Stuck in the middle with you.
From the looks of it, Patrick Onwuasor is the starting ‘Mike’ linebacker in 2019. The starting ‘Will’ is a big old ‘to be determined.’ Second-year coverage ‘backer Kenny Young flashed in 2018, but UDFA Chris Board has been keeping stride, and even overtaking Young’s development so far this off-season.
With no proven starter, I would keep a close eye on the position in training camp, to see if Wink tries new things – like Bowser inside in an attempt to keep the athletic player on the field. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them shifting LBs outside and in to see who works the best at each position. Keep an eye on UDFA E.J. Ejiya as well – he’s been making some plays, and the Ravens do love their UDFA gems.
Alright, I’m done with you people.
That’s it for this article. There are other storylines that we’ll want to watch throughout preseason, and we’ll get to those, but for now, I hope I’ve given you some things to keep an eye on later this month.
Keep it locked on Russell Street Report as things start picking back up (allow notifications from the website) so you can get a realistic, non-sugar-coated view of the team, players, and season.