Football season has arrived … at least for the Ravens rookies.
The first-year players report to Owings Mills on Wednesday, July 17, and will see the intensity ratchet up several levels over the coming weeks.
Here are some key storylines to watch this week:
— The biggest question facing this group is the health of first-round pick Hollywood Brown, who spent much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc foot surgery. The Ravens are relying a new element of speed for their offense and they expect Brown to play a key role in that game plan.
The team, however, will likely bring him along slowly so that he doesn’t experience any setbacks before the regular season.
— This could create a bigger opportunity for fellow rookie receiver Miles Boykin, who was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft. Boykin, however, was also hampered by a sore hamstring in the OTAs, so he will also have to show he is fully healthy.
Boykin could become a big part of the offense because of his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), speed (4.42 40) and solid hands. He was also a solid blocker at Notre Dame, which will be a huge part of the Ravens offense this season.
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— Justice Hill, a fourth-round pick that ran for 2,609 yards over three years at Oklahoma State, also has a huge opportunity. The Ravens love his breakaway speed and he should compete for reps behind Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards. The running attack will be the focal point of the offense and coaches are optimistic Hill can take the offense to a higher level.
“He’s definitely a hard worker. He’s smart, [and is] picking up the offense,” Ingram said about Hill. “He can run the ball from what I see so far, and he can come out of the backfield. He’s made some catches on some wheel routes, some catches for a touchdown like a day or two ago.
“Definitely, coming out of the backfield you can see that he’s fast and elusive, can catch the ball well, and you can tell he has good eyes and vision running the ball. I’m sure he’ll keep developing and improving as we get through these OTAs and into training camp.”
— There are expectations that Ben Powers will compete for the starting job at left guard. He has the pedigree to play immediately, but he has to prove he picked up the nuances of the playbook over the summer.
Powers, a fourth-round pick and consensus All-American, did not allow a sack at Oklahoma last season and keeping Lamar Jackson upright is a key priority for the Ravens. So far, the coaches have liked what he has seen from burly guard in the OTAs.
“Ben is really growing. Each practice he’s getting better,” Offensive Line Coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He has some instinctive qualities that sometimes aren’t coached. He can see and react to situations with that innate ability. That’s been a plus to see.”
— The evolution of Trace McSorley will also be watched closely. The former Penn State quarterback was taken in the sixth round and has the athleticism to play special teams or in certain packages on offense. McSorley looked solid throughout the OTAs.
— On defense, Jaylon Ferguson, a third-round pick from Louisiana Tech, has the biggest shoes to fill with the loss of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith via free agency. Ferguson has insisted that he is not putting much pressure on himself, but the Ravens are going to need him to make an impact this season.
Ferguson has the pedigree to be a game-changer and broke the NCAA record for career sacks with 45, eclipsing the previous mark set by Suggs. The Ravens also like Ferguson’s versatility, as he can line up inside or outside, which will allow defensive coordinator Don Martindale to be flexible with his packages. He also has the ability to effectively shed blockers.
“What’s interesting is we played our base defense less than 20 percent of the time last year,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “It’s the trend of the league, and people don’t really like to line up against us that way. So when we’re in our base defense, he’ll be what we call a RUSH. It moves us more into kind of an odd type of a framework in our base defense, although, we’ll play all of the different fronts. But you’ve got two edge-setting outside ‘backers for sure.
“That doesn’t discount the other guys we have, the young guys like Tyus [Bowser]. Tyus is still in the mix playing SAM, and it gives us another pass rusher. But we’re in our sub packages, which is our five and six defensive back packages, over 80 percent of the time, so you’re talking about defensive end. That’s where Matt [Judon] is and Tyus is and Jaylon [Ferguson] will be and the other guys are there, too.”
The biggest adjustment for some of these rookies might be the Baltimore weather. Temperatures are expected to hit the mid-90s this week with high humidity … another staple of training camp.