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First Major Injury Mars Hot but Productive Practice

Vince Biegel at Camp
original: Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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It was another scorcher at the Castle today, hot enough that the Ravens had to take a halftime rest/water break in the middle of their afternoon practice. According to several longtime attendees, the 10-minute break was the first of its kind in Ravens training camp history, likely as part of Baltimore’s efforts to preserve the health and fitness of their players this season.

David Ojabo and Marcus Peters were among the injured Ravens that could be seen on the sidelines, with Devin Duvernay (thigh) and Brandon Stephens (undisclosed) still absent. Josh Bynes and Justin Houston weren’t on the field, either, though they could have vet days off.

The big news out of this practice will be the announcement from John Harbaugh that outside linebacker Vince Biegel tore his Achilles, which will sideline him for the third season in a row. Harbaugh called it “disappointing” and indicated that Biegel was on his way to earning a roster spot due to his impressive camp showing before the injury.

Harbaugh also told media that first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum will be fine after limping off the practice field early in the day. Linderbaum’s absence for the rest of practice was “precautionary,” with Patrick Mekari stepping up in his place.

The pass-catching group continues to be one of the main stories of training camp, with familiar standouts like James Proche and Isaiah Likely.

Proche hauled in several passes, including a nice sideline snag for a touchdown and a beautiful 70+ yard bomb from Lamar Jackson during the first half of practice. His first-on, last-off attitude and eager participation in every drill he can involve himself in is a clear sign of a player hungry for more opportunity and determined to make the most of it.

Likely has been getting a borderline-absurd amount of training camp hype, but he is exactly as advertised. He had back-to-back touchdowns on contested catches and is showing a preternatural ability to come down with the ball. He’s also been effective over the middle of the field, though he is still working on his timing and chemistry with Jackson. Getting Likely on the field with Mark Andrews could cause matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.

Tyler Badie and Justice Hill had the best days of the Ravens’ running back group. Badie has a ton of burst with the ball in his hands and looked effective catching passes out of the backfield. Hill looked even better as a pass-catcher, getting a lot of separation on a few nice corner routes. It doesn’t seem like Hill’s Achilles tear last preseason is affecting him at all, and I think his special teams prowess and familiarity with the Ravens offense will keep him securely in the mix for a roster spot.

On the defensive side of the ball, the impact of ex-Michigan assistant Ryan Osborne can be seen in individual and positional drills with the linebackers, particular the edge rushers. Both Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo praised Osborne and credited him for their development at Michigan just as much as they did Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. But after Biegel’s injury, no amount of stepping up from Odafe Oweh can hide the lack of depth on this team’s roster. Oweh, Houston and Daelin Hayes are the only roster locks, with veteran Steven Means and undrafted rookies Jeremiah Moon and Chuck Wiley also taking snaps at edge. At this point, I’d be shocked if Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t end up in Baltimore.

Patrick Queen was another player to watch. He blew up a few running plays and had a nice pass break-up in a drill, an encouraging sign for those hoping for a third-year breakout from the former LSU linebacker. I’m still looking for him to be more comfortable dropping back into zone coverage in the middle of the field, something he didn’t get much of a chance to do on Thursday.

It’s hard to see the defense taking shape with so many rotations in 11-on-11s and the Ravens offense working out some kinks of their own, but it’s clear that Macdonald has a holistic approach to installing his defense. For example, he would have defenders line up as offensive players and simulate pre-snap motion as the ‘real’ defenders made their adjustments. It’s clear that he wants every player to learn every part of their defense as best as they can.

There is a real emphasis on accountability in Baltimore, as exemplified by the lap run by eight-year veteran Morgan Moses after a false start. He laughed about it after at the podium, but it was clear from his demeanor that he and the rest of the team are holding themselves to an extremely high standard this year. Moses also mentioned that Oweh will ask him questions during practice to better understand an offensive tackle’s mindset, something that may be coming from Macdonald’s coaching approach.

My final notes are around the spirit and feel of this team. There’s an interesting mixture of quiet confidence and spirited fun in Baltimore. The youngsters on both sides of the ball are taking leadership roles on and off the field, especially Odafe Oweh, Rashod Bateman and James Proche. But they’re relative youngsters in the NFL and having fun, like when Oweh and Bateman mobbed Lamar Jackson when he went to greet a youth football team. The kids wanted Lamar, and when he finally obliged, Oweh and Bateman joined in the screaming to tease Jackson about the attention he receives from the youth at camp.

I think these Ravens not only know they are capable of greatness, but they fully believe they will reach their potential this season. They’re just getting started, and they know it.

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