The Baltimore Ravens kicked off a two-day minicamp this morning, and I’ve gotta tell ya… I missed this.
It’s the way the sun casts shadows over the players’ shoulders, projecting mountains of men battling on the field. It’s the sound of a ball off the laces of punters and kickers, not much different than the sound of the sleds popping, or to a lesser degree, a fastball hitting the mitts of a receiver on a completed pass. The cringeworthy song of the cicadas was simply no match for the pipes of Rob Ryan coaching up defensive players, and surely couldn’t drown out Keith Williams following every completion and incompletion with the necessary praise and critique for the wideouts. In fact, the loudest thing on the field at the Under Armour Performance Center today was?
You guessed it. Marlon Humphrey being Marlon Humphrey.
Add in a temperature that is more likened to an early fall Sunday morning than a midsummer’s day, and everything about minicamp this morning just brought back all of that euphoria associated with Baltimore Ravens football.
But alas, you came for a report on camp, and not a visualization of what I wish Bob Ross would’ve had a chance to recreate on a canvas…
Out of the gates it’s worth noting that this is just minicamp; pads not included.
So you take a few things with a grain of salt today, most notably the following:
- The line play on both sides is going to be rather tentative without contact, and on the same note…
- The pass rushers are a bit more handsy in their approach, but also…
- The pass rush isn’t worried about Lamar taking off running because…
- The ground game hardly exists (hardly a run play called), and in turn…
- The defensive backs are constantly sitting on the pass
It all ties together, but let’s use a perfect example of why this matters: Lamar Jackson was one thumb shy of a handful of interceptions thrown today… and that’s not a big deal.
Because the offense was set up to go pass heavy in these pad-free practices, which means the defensive backs are sitting back waiting for the pass – not the run – and if a rusher got free, Lamar was launching it to his best option in lieu of taking off running or throwing the ball away. In a minicamp session like this the latter two options aren’t helpful, unlike a game scenario. So yes, Lamar Jackson forced a few bad balls.
Don’t stress it.
The big focus on the day (thanks to the layout of the fields versus the positional group drills) was the wide receiver group. I must say, Rashod Bateman looked the part and then some. If I could sum up what I saw from Bateman, it’s that everything he does is done with purpose. He’s not going to burn you, but every stride, every cut, and every action in his route is done with intent and an expectation of getting the ball. He didn’t make false steps, cut routes short, or really jog at any point (even after a dead play). I know it’s early and just camp, but that little glimpse gave me some serious excitement for his future.
As for the rest of the group…
— Holly is Holly. His wheels look great, his routes look improved, and his hands are as sure as they’ve ever been.
— James Proche III stood out early in a bad way (a drop on Special Teams and receiving drills) but more than made up for it the rest of the day in 7s & 11s. I’m watching him closely in Year 2.
— Counter to Proche, Devin Duvernay and Miles Boykin were a pair of ghosts today. Nothing stood out in drills or scrimmages. Nothing too concerning, but for guys vying for the final three spots on the wideout group, they need to turn it up.
— The lesser known players that I loved watching: Devin Gray & Binjemin Victor. Everything is FAST. Their burst off the line, cuts, and flashing hands.
My natural progression carried me to the Tight End group, where I wanted to see what we can expect of the third spot up for grabs. With Nick Boyle and Jake Breeland absent today, we got even more looks at Eli Wolf, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, and Tony Poljan. For me, it was clear that Josh Oliver is leading this group for the TE3 slot on the roster. He’s a smooth route runner with great hands and a knack for finding the soft spot on the field.
Of course, run blocking is a massive part of the Ravens game, and we simply didn’t see much from anybody in that area today. Once we break into Training Camp mode, I expect we’ll have a better feel for which of these four tight ends truly stands out among the crop.
The offensive line is another interesting discussion, namely the interior of the line. As we all (painfully) recall, the Ravens had quite the mess of an interior offensive line in 2020, and cleaning that up was a priority for Eric DeCosta this offseason. The additions of OT Al Villanueva, OG Kevin Zeitler & OG Ben Cleveland were all notable, but based on what I saw today, the biggest improvement could be the center position.
Bradley Bozeman making the shift (back) to center has been a concern of mine. I won’t shy from that take. I voiced my unease that the Ravens were handing the reins to a player who hasn’t taken a game snap at the position since 2017… in college. Alas, just as it seems has become the Bozeman way in every aspect of his life both on and off the field, the former Bama center looks poised to take the bull by the horns and own the spot. Not a bad snap on the day, handled pressure well, and looked poised as can be.
A few other noteworthy OL items:
— Tristan Colon-Castillo is now just Tristan Colon. This is news to me. Perhaps I was under a rock… either way, Colon spent a lot of time at center behind Bozeman and equally impressed. I still think despite versatility (a true center with no other positional value) Colon will stick on the 53-man roster come September.
— Al Villanueva is a MONSTER. I know everybody talks about Ben Cleveland being huge, but Al just towers over the entire OL group, and there was no better sight than seeing the Ravens right tackle chatting on the sideline with JK Dobbins, just for the sake of height disparity.
— Pat Mekari had the defense jawing a little bit after rookie Odafe Oweh got him to jump for a False Start during a scrimmage.
I’ll continue to watch both Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson for a possible Year 2 jump. Tyre has more upside for me, given his flexibility to play both tackle and guard. Bredeson has a bit of a waiting list at both center and guard as of now.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a look at the defensive front seven, who spent their time on the far end of the field for individual drills, forcing me to rely solely on the 7s and 11s.
I made a valiant effort to focus on a few of the pass rushers, some with positive results and others not so much.
Naturally, rookie Oweh drew most of my attention within this group. The kid just looks massive on the field, which makes a ton of sense – at 6’5” he matches Jaylon Ferguson as the tallest outside linebackers on the Ravens roster. Here’s the wild thing about Oweh: despite Ferguson being listed at about 20 lbs heavier, Oweh flat out looks more intimidating on the edge to me. He looms larger, has an explosive first step, and the results matched today with Oweh finding his way to the backfield a few times with ease. Again, we take it with a grain of salt in these pad-less practices, but positive nevertheless!
A few other notes on the outside linebackers:
— Fellow rookie Daelin Hayes had a solid day as well. Hayes looks to have a set plan of attack to generate pressure and like Oweh, found the QB a few times during scrimmages.
— Chauncey Rivers made the best of his opportunity today with a few pressures of his own.
— Tyus Bowser caught my eye just once… on a blown assignment that led to a big completion. Not stressing it.
— Ferguson looked a step slow to me in every rep. I can’t tell if he’s thinking too much, or just naturally can’t step up his speed (or I’m judging based on a contrast to Oweh and Hayes) but less than ideal in my eyes.
The defensive back group was fun to watch, and once again, a pair of rookies drew my focus.
We all know what to expect from Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and the Ravens starting safeties. But watching Shawn Wade in coverage, along with Brandon Stephens, provided a nice sigh of relief in terms of the depth on this Ravens secondary. Wade spent the day in the hip pocket of his assignment, never more than a step off his man, while Stephens had a big play interception towards the latter portion of practice, not long after finding his way to the backfield for a QB pressure. Stephens’ instinct is really something else, as you could see his eyes reading plays and sniffing them out as they developed. Both will certainly have to earn game day snaps over a talented group of defensive backs, but I see a duo of guys that could provide value in a pinch.
More on the DBs:
— Khalil Dorsey had a lockdown day, and showed great recovery speed in the few times a receiver shook him loose.
— Overall the DBs found themselves in a lot of jump ball scenarios, and rarely lost a bout.
Player of the Day: THE CICADA
I watched this guy stick to Binjimen Victor like glue today. Even when Victor was able to shake him loose, the recovery speed was utterly insane, as he was able to get right back on his man. Outside of that rep vs Victor, he spent the entire day flying all over the field, was seemingly always around the ball, and never showed signs of fatigue. The only negative play on the day was pestering the official after the whistle to the point I was expecting him to get tossed. I don’t believe he’ll make it through the end of training camp, but a solid showing today nonetheless.