Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams were back, and so were Marcus Peters and Pernell McPhee. With a two-day mandatory minicamp beginning June 15, veterans who had opted out of the voluntary Organized Team Activities were back on the Owings Mills, Md., practice fields, and although several players remain sidelined with injuries — including tackle Ronnie Stanley, tight end Nick Boyle, fullback Patrick Ricard and cornerback Iman Marshall — the Ravens got their best look yet at what the 2021 roster will look like.
Here are five quick impressions of the first day of minicamp:
1. Tavon Young’s return adds to a deep secondary, but will that depth last this year?
Cornerback Tavon Young was on the field for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 last year, and head coach John Harbaugh called it a “great first step for him.”
Young took part in individual drills before watching 7-on-7 and full-team drills from the sideline.
“It’s great to see him out there,” Harbaugh said. “I just felt so happy for him and for us. He looked good [and] moved well.”
Young, 27, had developed into one of the top slot cornerbacks in the league, but his career has been derailed by injuries. He has played just two games in the past two years and has missed two entire seasons (2017, 2019) with injuries.
While Young watched from the sideline, a couple of other defensive backs shined on a day when the quarterbacks all threw interceptions. Marcus Peters, Anthony Averett, Chris Westry and Brandon Stephens picked off passes, and defensive backs easily could have had a few others. Averett and Khalil Dorsey were especially active in the secondary.
For the second straight summer, the Ravens’ secondary appears to be one of the team’s deepest units, headlined by Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith. Add Averett, a potentially healthy Young, the emerging Dorsey, rookie Shaun Wade, Davontae Harris, Westry and injured Iman Marshall, and there could be tough roster decisions looming.
Of course, that also appeared to be the case last year, and then injuries sidelined one defensive back after another.
Harbaugh said he predicts a “heated” competition in training camp.
“It’s a very talented group,” he said, “and the best players will be the guys that play the best. I can’t wait to watch it play out.”
2. The secondary won the day, but offense had its moments, too.
It was a ragged performance for the Ravens’ offense, with several interceptions and several other passes that were nearly picked off. But the offense produced some highlights as well.
Perhaps the best came from Sammy Watkins, who during a red zone drill made a tough, contested touchdown catch along the left sideline with Marlon Humphrey all over him. Watkins also got behind Anthony Averett for one long catch.
Marquise Brown showed well in a red-zone drill, and both he and Rashod Bateman elevated to make tough catches in the end zone. Bateman continues to look the part. He’s fluid, runs crisp routes and will only get more confident as he gets more familiar with Lamar Jackson and the offensive playbook.
James Proche, whose role last year was limited almost exclusively to punt return duties, had another active practice and finds ways to get open. With the influx of receivers, the competition for spots will be stiff, so a strong showing in a minicamp setting like this can only help him.
And whenever Jackson needs to improvise, he finds tight end Mark Andrews, who appears to be in midseason form.
3. Passing game specialist Keith Williams never stops coaching.
The Ravens say they have taken an out-of-the-box approach with their coaching staff this year, hiring Tee Martin as the receivers coach and adding Keith Williams as a passing-game specialist. Williams has been a personal receivers coach for several NFL players, and his emphasis on route-running and technique should benefit every receiver.
It’s not just the receivers, either. Running backs could have a larger role as pass-catchers this year, and during one drill, Williams worked with receivers, tight ends and running backs to hammer home the idea of coming back for the ball.
Williams doesn’t stop when the drills do, though, and his interaction off the field is fun to watch. During one special teams drill, he spent a long time talking to Marquise Brown, and later put his arm around receiver Tylan Wallace as he talked with Wallace and fellow rookie Rashod Bateman. Earlier, Williams had a long talk on the sideline with Devin Duvernay.
It’s too early to know whether Williams’ impact translates to a substantial increase in production for Ravens pass catchers, but he is coaching them up, that’s for sure.
4. Justin Tucker is human.
Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history, with a field-goal success rate of 90.7 percent, so seeing him miss any kick is noteworthy. At the June 15 minicamp practice, Tucker missed on back-to-back kicks during a hurry-up drill, part of what was a forgettable day for the kicking operation.
Tucker’s misses came as the Ravens practiced an end-of-game drill in which they needed to rush the kicking team onto the field with the clock running and less than 10 seconds left. It’s an important scenario that could decide a game someday. Tucker, holder Sam Koch and the rest of the kick team got in position on two consecutive end-of-game situations, but then Tucker missed both kicks, from 48 and 52 yards.
Tucker voiced his displeasure, then on the sideline worked with Koch to launch a couple of kicks toward the goalpost to get some of his frustration out.
The day wasn’t any better for backup kicker Jake Verity, who is in camp to give Tucker’s leg an occasional rest and to possibly position himself for a signing elsewhere; it worked for Wil Lutz and other surplus kickers who have passed through Owings Mills.
But Verity, an undrafted rookie from East Carolina, missed three field-goal attempts during one kicking period, and his final kick of the day clanked off the left upright and fell short from 38, a fitting finish to a rough day for the kickers.
5. The time is now for this defensive line.
Derek Wolfe watched from the sideline as he recovers from an illness, but Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell were back on the field as anchors of the Ravens’ defense. Those three, plus edge rusher Pernell McPhee, boast a combined total of 44 NFL seasons, and all are on the high side of 30 years old.
Campbell and Williams both looked to be in good shape after skipping OTAs to work out on their own. They met with the media after practice and both stressed that they aren’t looking past this season, but they also have to know that they are, in the words of former Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, “on the back nine” of their NFL careers. They also believe that the Ravens’ roster is built to contend for a title, which is where every player wants to be, particularly later in his career.
The Ravens have bolstered the unit with some understudies, such as promising Justin Madubuike, but Williams, Campbell, Wolfe and McPhee are expected to be an important part of whatever the Ravens accomplish this year.
Campbell said that earlier in his career, he had hoped to have a 15-year NFL career. He is entering his 14th season.
“I’m going to give everything I have this year, and then we’ll re-evaluate once the season ends,” Campbell said. “But it’s definitely something you think about. … I still would like to play 15, so hopefully I’ve got another one. So we’ll see.”
Williams, meanwhile, is entering the final year of a five-year, $52.5 million contract he received from the Ravens in 2017 in recognition of his status as one of the league’s best run-stuffers. He declined to discuss whether any talks about a contract extension have started, saying, “Right now, all I’m worried about is Year Nine. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
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