More than 20,000 fans filled M&T Bank Stadium for a practice session that featured plenty of positional drills, a player perceived to be on the bubble performing as a standout, and two first-round rookies doing their part to get that rabid fanbase both engaged for the night, and optimistic for the future.
I know it’s a long sentence, ok? It’s training camp for us, too.
James Proche, widely considered to be locked in battle for the team’s final receiver spot, gave his supporters plenty of ammunition on this night. Proche stood out in 7-on-7, 11-on-11 and situational reps, grabbing passes from both Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley. It’s not that Proche is particularly flashy, but he shows consistent hands and the ability to present a good target to his throwers.
He has shown himself this offseason to be a reliable target. There is still plenty of time left before the organization has to make decisions, but at this point it would be safe to suggest Proche is making his case.
Though Proche was arguably the top performer for the night, others certainly had their moments. Before we continue, remember there was no contact, so those with the most opportunities to impress in these situations are players involved in the passing game — particularly on offense.
- Huntley got first shot in 11-on-11s, but there were a lot of different combinations on the field throughout the evening, so don’t look too deep into who was “starting.” He did deliver a beautiful deep pass to Devin Duvernay, who beat Marcus Peters to the ball. He also threw a gorgeous strike to Josh Oliver for a touchdown in red-zone drills.
- McSorley threw a very nice out to Oliver in those same drills, and later threw a perfect 30-plus yard touchdown pass to rookie Rashod Bateman, who beat Pro Bowl corner Marlon Humphrey for the catch. McSorley is a very good rhythm passer, and seems to excel on those two passes where he can set his feet and throw with timing — speed outs and fades. He did throw a few short passes that could have ended in very punished receivers if hitting was a thing.
- Bateman looks every bit the real deal. He gets in and out of breaks, catches the ball cleanly and appears to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder — which is a good thing for a player the Ravens have high hopes for as an alpha receiver. The first of two Ravens first-round picks this year projects nicely so far, and did leave a little early with some reported “muscle tightness.”
- The second of those first-round picks, Odafe Oweh, is… how do we word this? A PHYSICAL PHENOMENON. He is long and fast and won downfield as a gunner in some early punt drills, and continually flashed throughout practice. He put a move on veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva in drills that will cause brilliant minds to rethink everything they thought they knew about physics, and nearly made Russell Street Report scribe Adam Bonaccorsi to jump out of his skin. I knew Oweh was a physical “freak,” according to the numbers, but he is just a different kind of cat to watch up close. On a field filled with standout athletes, Oweh shines.
- It’s nearly impossible to rate the run game without pads or tackling or, well, many attempts at running during these practices. Justice Hill does look as fast as we all already knew he was, but it’s just hard to think he will have a much bigger role this year, barring injury. He did look good in some pass-blocking drills, and that could help him find a niche in certain game situations.
- JK Dobbins did catch a short pass from Huntley and put a ridiculous move on Kristian Welch in the open field that caused quite a stir in the crowd. Dobbins looks so definitive when he makes his moves, and it will be something to watch if he improves his impact on the pass game.
- Rookie Brandon Stephens is one of the mystery men of this class in terms of his role, and that’s something that will probably continue to evolve as Don Martindale learns more about him. Stephens has impressed when he gets in the box, blitzing with some effectiveness (remember, just in shells so far), and sorting his way through traffic. It’s fair to wonder if his previous experience as a running back helps with his comfort and vision in the heat of mayhem.
- Mark Andrews only had a few catches, but he does look leaner and faster this season. It will be interesting to see how he looks when Lamar Jackson gets back on the field and starts targeting Andrews with regularity.
- Justin Tucker missed a 51-yard field goal and caused a gasp in the crowd. He nailed a handful of other long kicks, though. Tucker is a rock star on the field for the Ravens, and is as beloved a player as they have. There aren’t a lot of fan bases who cherish their kicker as much as the Flock loves Tucker. Of course, there aren’t a lot of Justin Tuckers, either, so that probably makes sense.
- Sammy Watkins made some more nice plays, both in the red zone drills and 11-on-11s. It’s fair to worry about Watkins’ health, as he does have a medical history, but he has shined throughout this offseason when on the field. A healthy Watkins makes this team better.
- Jacoby Jones and Michael McCrary both made appearances on the big screen, and each enjoyed warm welcomes from the crowd, as two Super Bowl winners should. I don’t know why I felt compelled to share that, but here we are.