At this point during Training Camp and the Preseason I’m often asked for my thoughts and opinions on where the Ravens stand. Almost always, I wish for their good health. You’ve heard the old cliché, the most important ability is availability!
Each day we seek out players and plays that are made during camp and share them with fans who for the most part only have the televised preseason games to rely upon. And even those can be deceptive. Case in point, most, after watching on Saturday, will likely say that Tyler Huntley is clearly the Ravens better backup quarterback. But had you been at practice throughout the first 14 days of training camp, you would know that Trace McSorley had an edge of Huntley, albeit slight.
Similar arguments could be made about competitive battles at all positional groupings and that’s why in part, the preseason games can be deceptive. Yet they do help the team’s talent evaluators to build the roster from the bottom up. The season is longer – even longer in 2021 with the 17th regular season game added. Deep depth is important and oftentimes determines the difference between a playoff team and one that convalesces in mid-January.
So as someone who covers the team AND is a fan, I breathe a sigh of relief when a practice ends and all of the players who made their way onto the field on a given day, walk off unscathed. That wasn’t the case today with Marlon Humphrey.
The Ravens two-time Pro Bowl corner slipped on the field today and stayed down for a bit before walking towards the locker room. He’s arguably the team’s second most important player. It’s not a good look. Let’s hope that the injury was nothing serious. (UPDATE: Word is that it’s a slight groin pull.)
John Harbaugh was not at the podium today and therefore unavailable to answer questions regarding Marlon – not that he would give a direct answer anyway.
Injuries are frustrating to the coaching staff. Each coach is accountable for the performance of an individual unit. So when a player goes down, particularly one as important as Humphrey, John will clam up and share as little as possible, initially. In his mind, giving away vital information only serves to place the team at a competitive disadvantage.
Injuries have also triggered the frustration of offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris. There hasn’t been a single snap taken together by the projected starting lineup. Stanley-Cleveland-Bozeman-Zeitler-Villanueva have yet to line up for a single play TOGETHER this summer. Not one.
Heading into camp, the three biggest questions were:
• Where will the Ravens pass rush come from?
• How will they address the 2020 problems on the offensive line?
• What will they do to improve the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack?
Judging from the practices and the games against the Saints, it appears that Wink Martindale has the resources to frustrate opposing quarterbacks and control their effectiveness. As for the other two questions, they in part, go hand-in-hand.
The wide receiver room, particularly when healthy, looks vastly improved. New comers Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace bring skill sets that are upgrades to the corps and complementary to the receivers that the Ravens have had. Speaking of which, both Devin Duvernay and James Proche seem to be benefitting from a firm understanding of the playbook and more repetitions than a season ago. And Marquise Brown has the look of a player ready to make a breakthrough – when healthy.
Considering these developments along with the contributions of coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams, the Ravens could be a middle of the pack passing attack in terms of yardage, and they very well could be an even higher ranked aerial team as it relates to efficiency.
The offensive line can get it together.
They still have time. It can be done. But given their lack of reps together thus far, as a unit, it’s unrealistic to think that they can achieve their potential early in the season. Until they gel, I expect the Ravens to lean on a tried and true formula. Run the football. Win the battle of field position. Play solid defense by giving up field goals instead of touchdowns, AND…protect the football.
Thoughts on The Defense
If late July and early August are any indication, there’s reason to get excited about Wink’s group. Calais Campbell looks spry and his movements throughout camp belie his years. He’s taken over practices at times. Derek Wolfe is a year into the system and should be able to start in 2021 as strongly as he finished in 2020. He was dominant against the Titans in the Wild Card Game last season. Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington have had strong camps and they’ve been disruptive in the pocket. Justin Ellis and Aaron Crawford provide quality depth.
At linebacker, Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison have shown signs of maturity and faster play. That showed up in a small sample size on Saturday night against the Saints. L.J. Fort and Chris Board bring flexibility and depth while on the outside the additions of Justin Houston, Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes and the expanded repertoire of Tyus Bowser more than compensate for the losses of Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue.
The secondary is stronger than ever with the return of Tavon Young, the development of DeShon Elliott and Anthony Averett, the youthful additions of Brandon Stephens and quite possibly Chris Westry, Ar’Darius Washington and Shaun Wade. And let’s not forget arguably the league’s best trio of corners in the forms of Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith.
Managing the season while playing week-to-week is a challenge. But if the Ravens can get to their Week 8 Bye while employing the aforementioned formula to the tune of a record of (5-2), I think they’re a better team in the second half, barring significant injuries.
Ravens at Raiders
Today we learned that Allegiant Stadium (home of the Las Vegas Raiders) is requiring fans to be vaccinated to gain admission. On Twitter, without judging, I wondered aloud if Lamar Jackson would be subject to the same scrutiny.
I received many comments, some quite insulting, but that’s Twitter for you at times. Some took offense to me singling out Lamar. Now, we heard last week that the Ravens were up over 90% of players vaccinated, meaning that at least 81 of the 90 players on the roster had received the vaccine. We don’t know who the other 8 players are/were but we do know that Lamar is not one of them and we also know that he’s the team’s most important player.
For the time being, it’s a choice – until it’s not. But while getting the vaccine remains a choice, particularly in the NFL, there’s just so much at stake for so many. It just seems that given the career paths of these players and the close proximities within which they work together, that pressures mount to succumb to the vaccine, even if one decides the choice is more important than the illness itself.
I hope and pray for the best for all of these athletes. They’ve earned their opportunity to shine. But the league has made it clear that they do not plan on being as forgiving as they were in 2020. If today’s COVID framework was implemented in 2020, the Ravens probably don’t make the playoffs last season, and as a team, they would have been docked a week’s pay.
Think about how that might go over with those who aren’t sick and were vaccinated.
Just think if you lost a week’s pay due to a co-worker.
Think if you lost out on an annual bonus – in football terms, playoff money, due to a co-worker.
It’s a tricky situation. There are no guarantees.
Here’s to greater understanding, education and quality of life for everyone. The virus has done enough to disrupt our lives. Let’s hope it doesn’t disrupt the availability of the team’s players and the availability of this needed pastime in today’s world.