OWINGS MILLS, MD. — The Ravens held their first OTA workout open to the media on May 25, and while head coach John Harbaugh praised the work he saw from the roughly 70 players in attendance, the absence of one player in particular — quarterback Lamar Jackson — topped the list of storylines.
Veteran players seemed genuinely excited to be back on the field together and ready to bury last year’s 8-9 record and season-ending six-game losing streak, while rookies were savoring their first true NFL workouts with most of the squad in attendance. (Their only on-field activity before this week was a rookie minicamp.)
Those missing the voluntary workout included several players rehabbing from major injuries, such as running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, cornerback Marcus Peters and tackle Ronnie Stanley.
But several veterans were on the field, including All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, linebacker Josh Bynes, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, guard Kevin Zeitler and safety Chuck Clark.
Humphrey said he is recovered from the torn pectoral muscle that cost him the final five games of last season and said he looked forward to “getting back into the swing of things.”
“They pay me a decent amount of money, so I think I can show up to some of the [OTAs],” he said. “I think it’s really important, whether you do all of it, a little bit of it, I think it’s really key just to at least show up. … Nothing is better than practicing and training with the people you’re going to be with all year, and I think it’s never too early to start the chemistry with not only the players, but the coaching staff.”
Here are five quick takeaways from the May 25 practice:
1. Lamar Jackson’s absence looms above all.
However Mark Andrews and Marlon Humphrey and Kyle Hamilton looked — and all appear to be in top form for mid-May — the absence of quarterback Lamar Jackson is going to be the dominant storyline until he shows up.
OTA workouts are voluntary, as defined in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Jackson is under zero obligation to attend. But across the league, the starting quarterback is almost always in attendance, so when he isn’t, it is newsworthy.
Jackson has often mentioned the desire to “get with my guys,” and this would seem to be an especially important offseason for that given that he has a new center and several new targets including rookie tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely.
Jackson is also coming off a season in which he struggled even before missing the final four games with a foot injury. He finished the year ranked 23rd in passer rating (87.0) and 22nd in completion percentage (.644).
But Jackson, for now at least, has opted to stay away from OTAs, and by all accounts also stayed away from the facility for the offseason conditioning program as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. To be clear, this season isn’t going to be won or lost by whether Jackson throws some passes in noncontact drills in May, but his absence does add more intrigue to a slow burn of a story that will only heat up the longer he stays away.
“We’ve been down this road many times through the years,” head coach John Harbaugh said when asked about Jackson’s absence. “So I’ll just let Lamar speak for himself on that. It’s for him to talk about.”
2. Kyle Hamilton looks the part.
Rookie Kyle Hamilton was sure to draw attention given his status as the team’s top draft pick, but ranging in the back of the Ravens’ defense in his No. 14 jersey, he absolutely looked the part of an NFL safety.
Physically impressive at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Hamilton looked fluid, confident and comfortable during 11-on-11 drills, reading the offense and getting people in position in front of him. He especially shined in a one-on-one drill in which defensive backs are matched up against receivers and tight ends. Hamilton showed range, athleticism and instincts, making a quick break on the ball to break up a pass intended for rookie tight end Charlie Kolar. He did much the same thing in a later matchup against rookie tight end Isaiah Likely.
If contact were allowed, Hamilton would have clobbered undrafted rookie wide receiver Slade Bolden on one play, and possibly could have had an interception.
“He’s picked up the defense exceptionally quickly so far,” Harbaugh said. “Not that he’s been perfect, but he’s studying. You can tell he studies hard at it, and he’s got a good grasp of the defense already.”
3. It was a rough day for the wide receivers.
What would a Ravens spring or summer practice be without scrutiny of the wide receivers? This year’s wide receiver intrigue grew after the trade of Marquise Brown during the draft, leaving Rashod Bateman atop a depth chart filled with unproven players and undrafted rookie projects.
Granted, this group didn’t have Lamar Jackson to work with; the only quarterbacks on the field were backup Tyler Huntley and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown from Oregon. It is just the second OTA workout of May, so there’s no reason to panic, but Ravens receivers dropped more passes than Harbaugh or receivers coach Tee Martin would like to see.
Bateman, in particular, had a tough day. He had a long pass go just off his fingertips when he had a step on Brandon Stephens down the right sideline. It wasn’t an easy play, but it’s the kind of play a No. 1 receiver will make more often than not. Later, an open Bateman dropped a pass along the right sideline when he started upfield before securing the catch. And he couldn’t hold on to an end-zone fade route against Marlon Humphrey.
Bateman and Humphrey were also matched up in a highly anticipated rep during one-on-one matchups, but Bateman stumbled getting off the line of scrimmage and the pass fell incomplete.
Tylan Wallace, Jaylon Moore and even the sure-handed James Proche also had passes bounce in and out of their hands. Proche did have a nice deep catch when he beat rookie cornerback Damarion Williams. Proche and Wallace in particular have a chance to carve out a much larger role this year with Brown, Sammy Watkins and Miles Boykin all gone from last year’s team, but that begins with consistent play on the practice field.
4. The Ravens’ secondary will define this defense.
The Ravens continue to take a build-from-the-back approach to their defense, signing free-agent safety Marcus Williams and taking safety Kyle Hamilton with their first draft pick.
Watching Hamilton, Chuck Clark and Marlon Humphrey on the field together, it’s easy to envision this being a dynamic group once everyone is healthy.
Joining them at some point will be Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller — who has agreed to a one-year deal with the team — and Williams, the team’s top free-agent acquisition this offseason who was not in attendance for the open workout. (Humphrey said Williams will be on the field next week.)
They will be complemented by role players such as versatile Brandon Stephens — who played a lot of outside cornerback in the workout — safeties Geno Stone and Ar’Darius Washington, rookie draft picks Damarion Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis, and returnees such as Kevon Seymour and Iman Marshall. It’s likely there won’t be room for all.
Seymour was one of the standouts of the open workout as he broke up a pass intended for Rashod Bateman and then later picked off a pass from Tyler Huntley that he might have returned for a touchdown in live action.
Humphrey candidly said he “got a little sloppy” with fundamentals last year, and he says he is driven to return to his Pro Bowl form. He also said creating more turnovers is a point of emphasis this year after the Ravens finished the 2021 season with just 15 — the second-lowest total in franchise history.
5. The pass rush remains a major question mark.
Tyus Bowser missed the workout as he recovers from a torn Achilles, but Odafe Oweh was on the field despite having offseason shoulder surgery. Those two led the team in sacks last year with seven and five, respectively, but no other edge defender on the current roster recorded any sacks last year. Justin Houston (4.5 sacks) remains a free agent, as does Pernell McPhee (1 sack). McPhee is said to be considering retirement.
Jaylon Ferguson missed the OTA workout, and it’s unclear whether he’s dealing with an injury. Ferguson, who arrived in Baltimore with the moniker “Sack Daddy” after breaking Terrell Suggs career NCAA record, had no sacks and six tackles in limited action last season, and this is a big offseason for him as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
With Bowser and Ferguson missing, and with second-round draft pick David Ojabo (Achilles) likely out until November, second-year linebacker Daelin Hayes and Vince Biegel were among the most active edge rushers in the May 25 workout. It’s hard to judge pass rush in noncontact drills, but Hayes and Biegel frequently won matchups against backup tackles; presumptive starters Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses both missed the workout.
Hayes played sparingly in one game last season and Biegel, an inside-outside linebacker signed earlier this month, has not had a sack since 2019. Even assuming Bowser returns at 100 percent by Week 1, the onus will be on new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to generate a pass rush.
The Ravens need other players to emerge, whether that’s Ferguson, Hayes, Malik Harrison, Biegel or others. Will they look to add a free agent such as Houston? Interior pressure from players such as Justin Madubuike or rookie Travis Jones would also be a big help.
NOTES: Others missing the workout included tight end Nick Boyle, tackles Ju’Wuan James, defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Derek Wolfe and defensive backs Ar’Darius Washington and Iman Marshall. … Running back Justice Hill, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, was on the field and moving well. Hill figures to be in a battle for a final roster spot with, among others, rookie sixth-round pick Tyler Badie, who made a nifty one-handed catch in the right flat …. Patrick Queen had a nice diving interception…. Several Ravens rookies were wearing the new concussion-prevention Guardian Cap helmet covers. Harbaugh said the covers are mandatory for the first two weeks of training camp for anyone playing in the front seven. … It is strange not seeing Sam Koch on the practice field after 16 years with the team. Actually, Koch was on the field in a T-shirt and baseball cap in his new role as special teams consultant and worked with his successor, rookie punter/holder Jordan Stout.
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