A relatively-short field goal, at least for Justin Tucker, was all it took for John Harbaugh to end the Ravens’ blistering Friday practice early. The 47-yarder sailed through the upright and concluded a practice that yielded few answers about the important questions facing the Ravens.
Let’s start with the wide receivers, a group that was missing Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay on Friday. Unlike most, I’m fairly comfortable with Baltimore’s receiving corps right now, led by a mature-beyond-his-years James Proche. I can’t rave enough about his work ethic and overall approach, and he’s certainly earned the opportunity to show it can translate to games.
Of the wide receivers competing for a roster spot, Shemar Bridges stood out the most to me, with some excellent work on special teams and in positional drills. During both, he completed a less-than satisfactory rep, took some coaching and completed another rep with noticeable improvement. He’s not a daily standout in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 work, but he’s doing the kinds of things that earn roster spots. I am really looking forward to watching him in the preseason, which I imagine will be a good test for the Division II product.
Jaylon Moore, Binjimen Victor and Makai Polk all continue to be a consistent presence across practice, as does Tylan Wallace, though I’m still looking for a little bit more out of the 2021 fourth-rounder.
The Ravens also have arguably the most exciting group of tight ends in the league, with Mark Andrews getting a few extra looks from Lamar Jackson with Bateman sidelined. Isaiah Likely is getting a ton of reps from several spots as Greg Roman tries to figure out what kind of weapon he has on his hands.
Likely’s matchups with Kyle Hamilton have become a must-watch event at this point, with three more 1-on-1’s on Friday. Likely first caught a gimme slant for about 4 yards, then Hamilton broke up a fade. Likely then turned Hamilton around to win the third rep before practice moved on.
Yes, there are still questions about Baltimore’s receiving depth, as a significant injury to either Bateman or Andrews would be disastrous. But losing one of their top two options would be disastrous for a vast majority of teams in the NFL, none of which have the Ravens’ elite rushing attack. And I think I’d still rather take this group than the 2019 and 2020 receiving corps, so I’ll give them a chance before calling for reinforcements.
On the defensive side of the ball, Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston picked up where they left off last year rushing the passer. Oweh in particular is flying off the edge, but I haven’t seen any other standouts at the position after Vince Biegel’s injury. Chuck Wiley had a backfield stop, but no one else stood out.
Brent Urban blew up multiple plays in the backfield, and strikes me as this year’s returning veteran Raven who plays his best football in Baltimore. “Those veteran guys, they don’t need a thousand reps, but when they get out there, you can kind of tell they know what they’re doing,” said Harbaugh of Urban (and Houston). I’m still not seeing much interior pass rush from the defensive line, but the run defense is generally stout as ever, and deep.
Of the defensive backs, Chuck Clark had a strong day, as did David Vereen. Damarion Williams struggled in 1-on-1’s, but was flying around the field in full-team work and had a nice interception of Tyler Huntley.
After practice, Harbaugh revealed that Tyler Linderbaum would be out for 1 to 2 weeks – so 2 weeks – but he didn’t seem worried about Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay or Brandon Stephens. It almost seems like Bateman and Duvernay were held out as an extreme precaution with their reps split among the rest of the wide receivers. Stephens has a “soft tissue” injury and given the team’s defensive back depth, don’t expect him to be rushed back too soon.
The keyword for the Ravens seems to be execution. It’s something wide receivers coach Tee Martin said multiple times during his post-practice press conference, especially in reference to the Ravens’ upcoming preseason matchup on August 11. Can players build on strong camps and translate them into fully-padded, full-contact competitive games? Martin even cautioned that players performing well in camp could get too “comfortable…because they’re going against the same guys every day.”
It’s also execution in a larger sense, something like delivering on expectations. The players around Lamar Jackson are not only aware of his talent, but their own ability to perform around him. But they have to actually deliver on that potential, and that’s going to take multiple breakout seasons from young players. It’s somewhat interesting to see a team bet so heavily on their own scouting and coaching, but based on what I’ve seen, it’s tough to argue with their approach. We’ll see if it pays off.