As Ravens Inch Closer To Opener, Injuries To Wide Receivers Represent Big Challenge

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens inch closer to the regular season, the training room keeps getting more crowded with wide receivers. James Proche missed practice Aug. 24 after cutting his workout short a day earlier, joining five other Ravens wide receivers who have been sidelined by injuries for extended periods in training camp.

“That’s the biggest challenge we have in camp,” Harbaugh said after the team’s Aug. 24 workout. “We’re pretty good at every spot but that wide receiver spot is very thin. … That’s been tough all camp.”

When the Ravens reported to camp in July, the consensus was that seven receivers were atop the pecking order at the position, and of those seven, five were sidelined Aug. 24: Sammy Watkins, Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Miles Boykin and Proche. Deon Cain, who had been making a roster push early in camp before suffering a hamstring injury, also remains out.

Brown has had just one full practice, and Boykin has been out since Aug. 2. Bateman, the Ravens’ top draft pick this spring, is recovering from groin surgery after suffering an injury Aug. 10.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t even begin practicing until Aug. 7 because of a positive COVID test just before training camp began, so he has had no on-field practices with Brown or Boykin this summer and just one full workout with Bateman.

Second-year receiver Devin Duvernay and rookie fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace have been on the field each day, but beyond that, Jackson is left to work with depth receivers Jaylon Moore, Devin Gray, Binjimin Victor and Siaosi Mariner, who aren’t likely to be on the team come September.

The injuries also could complicate the Ravens’ decision-making when it comes time to cut the roster to 53 players, which must be done by Aug. 31. Does Boykin, the team’s biggest and best blocking receiver, hold on to his tenuous roster spot despite missing virtually all of training camp?

Harbaugh stressed that the injured receivers take part in all meetings and walkthrough practices in the afternoon to understand the plays.

“It’s not like they’re on vacation,” he said. “They do their rehab work, and they do all the football work except for practice.”

Harbaugh didn’t have any timetable for the return of the injured receivers, though Bateman is probably farthest away after undergoing surgery. If he isn’t ready for the beginning of the season, the Ravens could put him on short-term injured reserve — as long as he is on the initial 53-man roster. In that case he would be out until Week 4 at the earliest.

Brown has been doing extensive conditioning work on a side field for a couple of weeks and appears close to being able to return, but the Ravens will likely err on the side of caution with Brown, and with the veteran Watkins, as they try to point them toward the season opener at Las Vegas.

While crediting the work of the younger receivers, Jackson expressed optimism that he and the top group can back in sync quickly.

“When they come back,” Jackson said, “we’ll be hitting right where we started off at.”

Asked whether the Ravens would have enough time to work the injured receivers up to speed before the regular-season opener at Las Vegas on Sept. 13, Harbaugh said, “There’s gotta be.”

TRAINING CAMP NOTEBOOK:

JACKSON SAYS STATUS FOR WASHINGTON GAME IS ‘UP TO COACH’: Quarterback Lamar Jackson has not played in either of the Ravens’ first two preseason games, and he said whether he plays against Washington Aug. 28 in the preseason finale will be up to head coach John Harbaugh.

“That’s up to Coach,” Jackson said. “I would love to play, get out there with my guys, but that’s Coach’s decision. I’m with him, whatever he decides.”

OFFENSIVE LINE GROUP BASICALLY INTACT AS TYRE PHILLIPS RETURNS: Offensive lineman Tyre Phillips returned to practice after missing the Carolina game and the Aug. 23 workout with an ankle injury. All-Pro Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is back, and so too is guard Ben Cleveland (concussion). In fact, the only offensive lineman that missed the Aug. 24 workout was tackle Ja’Wuan James (Achilles), who is on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Phillips began camp in a competition for the left guard spot with Cleveland and Ben Powers. With the other two banged up, Powers has started both preseason games at that spot.

T RONNIE STANLEY EXPECTS TO BE ‘FULL-GO’ FOR WEEK 1: Stanley has been ramping up to a full practice workload this week, and he said after practice that he expects to be “full-go” for Week 1 against Las Vegas.

“I feel really good,” said Stanley, who missed the last half of last season with an ankle injury sustained against Pittsburgh on Nov. 1. “I just really feel blessed to be back out with my brothers, and be able to do what I love. It was really close to all being taken away.”

Stanley said he’s been working especially on the strength and flexibility required to be an elite offensive tackle and that he fully expects to return to that level beginning with the season opener at Las Vegas.

“I do believe I’ll be full-go by that point,” he said.

HILL REMAINS OUT AS RUNNING BACK COMPETITION HEATS UP: Running back Justice Hill (ankle) remained sidelined from practice as he tries to hold on to the No. 3 running back job. Ty’Son Williams, who spent last year on the practice squad, is making a strong push for that spot with standout performances in preseason games and solid work on the practice field.

Several veterans appeared to get the day off on Aug. 24, including defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle), inside linebacker Otaro Alaka (knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (PUP, knee) remained sidelined, and safety DeShon Elliott (undisclosed) also missed practice.

RB J.K. DOBBINS CONTINUES TO MAKE STRIDES AS PASS CATCHER: Running back J.K. Dobbins has made pass catching a point of emphasis this summer, and he hauled in the top offensive play of the Aug. 24 workout when he caught a wheel route on his fingertips just beyond the reach of linebacker Patrick Queen. Queen had excellent coverage, but quarterback Lamar Jackson put the ball exactly where it needed to be.

After the play, Queen and Dobbins chatted, and it looked as if Queen was saying he couldn’t play the coverage any better, which was true.

Jackson noted that he and Dobbins had worked together in the offseason in Arizona as well, and said Dobbins has been “doing a great job in camp.”

YOUNG DEFENSIVE LINEMEN SHINE: With veterans Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe taking a veteran day, Broderick Washington and Justin Madubuike had extra reps up front for the Ravens and they delivered. In an early 11-on-11 period, Washington blew up a running play that would have been about a 3-yard loss, and Madubuike later beat Ben Bredeson for a would-be sack.

HOUSTON LEADS EXTRA WORK AGAIN: The Ravens have praised veteran Justin Houston’s leadership ability, and for the second straight day, he stayed on the practice field for a good 30 minutes working on rush technique with younger linebackers. On Monday, Houston was working with rookies Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes, while the next day Houston stayed on the field with Oweh and Tyus Bowser.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Bo Smolka

See all posts by Bo Smolka. Follow Bo Smolka on Twitter at @bsmolka