Rookie Wildcards Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

Street Talk Rookie Wildcards

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Judging from how they are performing in practice, several Ravens rookies are primed to have a huge season.

Unfortunately, the players can’t be fully evaluated until they take a live snap in a game.

That’s created a level of uncertainty heading into the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 13.

“These guys have played a lot of football, most of them in big programs, so I don’t think they’re going to be too shocked by it all,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But this year is going to be like no other. It’s going to be a lot of things that are going to happen that we’ll be seeing for the first time. So, it’ll be fun and exciting in that sense, but I do feel like our guys are up to the task.”

Two rookies who have especially shined have wide receivers Devin Duvernay, a third-round pick from Texas, and James Proche, who was selected in the sixth round from SMU.  

“They came from offenses that basically threw the ball all the time,” said wide receivers coach David Culley. “So, from a passing-game standpoint, those guys have had a lot of reps at a lot different routes [and] a lot of different techniques that they teach with doing a lot of the no-huddle offense they do there; and we do some of that here also.”

Both Duvernay and Proche also have the potential to make their mark on special teams.

Another rookie that could spark the offense this season is running back J.K. Dobbins, a second-round pick from Ohio State. Dobbins has been a dominant player throughout training camp with his ability to juke defenders and catch the ball out of the backfield.

The question is how many reps can he earn in a crowded backfield that includes Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill.

“I expect him to have an impact. What kind of impact? That certainly remains to be seen,” Harbaugh said about Dobbins. “He’s going to get an opportunity to play, for sure. I like everything we’ve seen so far. It’s just camp – we’re just a short period in – but he has certainly lived up to expectations so far.”

Offensive lineman Tyre Phillips, a third-round pick from Mississippi State, is battling D.J. Fluker for the starting spot at right guard. 

Would the veteran get the nod over the rookie simply based on experience? 

Not necessarily.

“It’s case-by-case; it really is. The guys who are playing the best … We want to put the five best out there, and whoever’s playing the best earns the job,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “There’s really no hiding from that. When you turn on the tape, you evaluate it, and whoever’s playing the best is really going to get that opportunity. We all understand the dynamic of rookie versus veteran, and the pros and cons involved.”

On the other side of the ball, Patrick Queen, a first-round pick from LSU, and Malik Harrison, a third-round selection from Ohio State, could each start at middle linebacker. Both of those players have been solid throughout camp. Queen is a versatile defender that is effective against the run and pass coverage, while Harrison is a thumper who likes to deliver a big hit.

If both of those players are on the field in the regular-season opener, we should get a quick gauge of how quickly they adapted to the pro game because the Browns will test them early and often.

“They came in here – ‘P.Q.’ just turned 21, I think Malik is 22 years old,” Ravens linebackers coach Mike Macdonald said. “They’ve got a great football foundation behind them, so they come in here with some linebacker pedigree considering how much time Patrick played at LSU in only a year-and-a-half. So, I like where they’re at. They’re ahead of where most rookies would be in a normal season at this point, I believe.”

Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, a third-round pick from Texas A&M, suffered an undisclosed injury in the team’s scrimmage, but Harbaugh does not think it will be a long-term setback. He also has the potential to be an impact player this season. 

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Todd Karpovich

About Todd Karpovich

Todd Karpovich has been a contributor for ESPN, the Associated Press, SportsXchange, the Baltimore Sun, among other media outlets nationwide. He is the co-author of “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Baltimore Ravens Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box,” “Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles,” and the author of “Manchester United (Europe's Best Soccer Clubs).” Karpovich lives in Towson with his wife, Jill, daughters, Wyeth and Marta, and a pair of dogs, Sarah and Rory. More from Todd Karpovich
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