OWINGS MILLS — The Ravens were back on the practice field May 26 in a session open to the media, and the 90-degree midday heat made it feel a lot like training camp. Granted, it’s foolish to draw many conclusions from the first week of spring workouts, and a lot will happen on these fields before the season opener at Las Vegas Sept. 13. But here are five quick observations of the first open workout of the spring:
1. The union asked players to stay away. They didn’t listen.
Citing safety concerns that range well beyond the pandemic, the NFL Players Association had strongly discouraged attendance at voluntary Organized Team Activities this year, and it put out statements on behalf of several teams — including the Ravens — declaring that players would opt out.
On April 17, the NFLPA tweeted a statement on behalf of Ravens players that read, “Our team leaders have discussed with each other, with our teammates and with the NFLPA, and in solidarity with other members of our union across the league, we have decided to exercise our CBA right not to attend in-person voluntary offseason workouts.”
Ultimately, though, this movement seemed to have lost steam over the past month, and the Ravens OTA workout looked much like past spring OTA workouts — with roughly 85 percent of the team on the field and several established veterans staying away. Among the presumed healthy players not in attendance were tight end Mark Andrews, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and Brandon Williams, linebacker Pernell McPhee and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters.
But quarterback Lamar Jackson, virtually all his running backs and wide receivers and several top defensive players were in attendance, and rookies and younger players such as Jaylon Ferguson and Ben Bredeson know this is a critical offseason in their development.
Asked about so many players being present, in light of the statement, safety Chuck Clark said, “I just think it’s a lot of guys that love the game of football and, honestly, they just want to be here to get better and perfect their craft and make the most of their career.”
2. Marlon Humphrey is a pro’s pro.
One player who had about 97 million reasons to opt out of the voluntary workouts was cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who signed a five-year, $97.5 million extension last fall. His status atop the depth chart is secure, but there he was, grinding away in the heat in individual and group drills.
That was particularly helpful for a secondary that was missing several of its top players. Veterans Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith both sat out the practice, injured corners Tavon Young and Iman Marshall watched from the sideline and Anthony Averett and Davontae Harris were not on the field, either. So Humphrey took reps alongside players such as Chris Westry, Khalil Dorsey and Nigel Warrior.
Humphrey has always approached the game like a consummate professional, with effort from the first whistle to the last. During in-season practices, Humphrey can often be found running with the scout team on special teams, and he goes full speed then, too.
It’s no surprise, then, that Humphrey would also be on these fields in May.
3. The passing game looked uneven. Relax, it’s the second practice of May.
It’s always hard to assess any particular unit in these workouts, given that the pass rushers are told to stay away from the quarterbacks, contact is prohibited and several key players are absent. But 7-on-7 drills gave the first real view of some of the key components of the 2021 passing game, though wide receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Mark Andrews were not present.
Overall, it was an uneven day for quarterback Lamar Jackson and his understudies, Tyler Huntley, Trace McSorley and camp addition Kenji Bahar. A few deep balls had a lot of air under them, and had contact or more aggressive defense been allowed, interceptions would have been likely. A couple of throws also drifted out of bounds or were otherwise off target.
First-round draft pick Rashod Bateman left the workout early, later returning to watch from the sideline. Head coach John Harbaugh said Bateman was dealing with some “muscle soreness” after taking a lot of reps in rookie minicamp last week, and said his departure from practice was precautionary.
“There’s no injury, but we want to make sure it stays that way,” he said.
Fellow rookie wide receiver Tylan Wallace looked the part, moving well in and out of breaks, and one player who stood out was tight end Eli Wolf, probably the most popular target in 7-on-7 drills. At one point, Jackson and Wolf connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass down the seam. An undrafted rookie last year, Wolf was slowed by injuries beginning in training camp and spent the year on the practice squad. He still faces an uphill battle to make the team, but a strong showing this spring will help.
Another player with a strong practice was receiver Miles Boykin, who is probably feeling some pressure this spring after two underwhelming seasons and two new draft picks in the receiver room. Boykin remains the Ravens best blocking receiver, which has value in this offense, but the Ravens surely would like to see more consistent play from him as a pass catcher as well.
4. Bradley Bozeman is the starting center.
The Ravens offensive line remains in flux, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley still recovering from offseason surgery and the left guard a seemingly open competition, but Harbaugh said after the workout that Bradley Bozeman is the starting center.
Bozeman, who started at guard the past two years, played center at Alabama, and his move back there had been widely expected after the Ravens struggled at that position last year, with three different players starting and none decisively winning the job. Snapping woes were major factors in a couple of key Ravens losses last season. Matt Skura has since moved on, and Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon, both of whom started at times last year, are in the mix as well but slot behind Bozeman for now.
Harbaugh said Bozeman is “very comfortable in there. He’s making the calls. He’s moving very naturally as a center. He’s snapping the ball very well. … Moving forward, he’ll be the center, and then we’ll let guys compete from there.”
5. One rookie was sidelined by injury, but progress seems good for other injured players.
Every team’s primary goal is to get out of OTAs without any significant injuries, and coaches can frequently be heard telling players to ease up and avoid any contact. Of course, Tavon Young was lost for the season a few years ago in a noncontact situation, so injuries can happen at any time.
The Ravens did suffer one significant injury, as undrafted rookie defensive lineman Xavier Kelly was carted off early in the workout. Kelly appeared to suffer an injury to his left Achilles during individual drills. Kelly, who had played at Arkansas and Clemson, had an uphill battle to the roster, but he had a chance to make an impact with the Ravens top three defensive linemen — Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe — all sitting out the OTA sessions.
In fact, with those three sidelined, the Ravens only had four defensive linemen in uniform in Kelly, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and Aaron Crawford. Assuming Kelly is sidelined, the Ravens will look to add another lineman or two for these OTA workouts.
It was encouraging, though, to see tight end Nick Boyle on the field. Boyle was not in uniform, but caught some balls on the sideline and appeared to be rehabbing well from his season-ending knee injury.
“He looks good,” Harbaugh said. “I really can’t wait to see him out there practicing. I don’t know when it’s going to be. I’ll probably keep him out of these sessions, but he seems like he’s champing at the bit.”
Injured defensive backs Tavon Young and Iman Marshall also watched from the sideline, as did fullback Patrick Ricard and tight end Jacob Breeland. Ricard, recovering from an offseason procedure on his hip, is expected back for individual drills soon, Harbaugh said.
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