Five Takeaways From The Ravens’ June 1 OTA Workout

OWINGS MILLS, MD. — The Ravens are midway through their three-week stretch of Organized Team Activities, and the two-hour practice session that was open to the media on June 1 felt every bit like training camp with mid-90s heat beating down on the practice fields at the team’s Under Armour Performance Center.

The team had 73 of 90 players in uniform at the voluntary workout, although once again, the absence of quarterback Lamar Jackson loomed large. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley took reps with the first team, and he connected with receiver Rashod Bateman on the play of the day. Huntley rolled to his right and lofted a deep bomb of 45 or 50 yards that Bateman hauled in behind safety Marcus Williams and cornerback Kevon Seymour.

Bateman has said this is “my time” to ascend to the No. 1 wide receiver role after the trade of Marquise Brown, and Bateman looked the part on that play.

Here are five other takeaways from the Ravens’ June 1 workout:

1. Lamar Jackson remains absent, and the Ravens remain silent about it.

Jackson has stayed away from the team’s voluntary activities this spring, opting instead to work out on his own with his personal quarterback coach. Speculation continues that his contract status is behind his decision this year; Jackson has not skipped OTAs in any of his previous NFL seasons, but he is entering the final year of his rookie deal and there is no indication that any extension is close to happening.

Last week, head coach John Harbaugh declined to discuss Jackson’s absence except to say, “I’ll just let Lamar speak for himself on that. It’s for him to talk about.”

Harbaugh did not meet with the media after the June 1 workout. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman did hold a news conference, but he, too, didn’t seem eager to address the Jackson situation.

“I’m not going to get into all of that,” Roman said. “I’ll let you talk to him about that, but our job as coaches is to develop everybody to their fullest, and when they’re here, we can do that. That’s what we’re focused on right now.”

Roman praised the work that backup Tyler Huntley is getting, but the Ravens privately have to be frustrated that No. 8 is not on the practice fields this spring. That would give him more time getting acclimated with rookie center Tyler Linderbaum, and rookie tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely, among others. Plus, Roman estimated that their offensive installation this spring includes 20 percent new material Jackson has not seen previously.

Several other players, including Calais Campbell, Michael Pierce and Derek Wolfe, have opted to stay away from OTAs, as is their collectively-bargained right. But it feels different when the starting quarterback stays away in a contract year.

Harbaugh hates distractions, but this increasingly has the potential to become a big one.

2. The running backs could factor as receivers.

Ravens running backs had a strong day as receivers out of the backfield, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he hopes that can be a bigger part of the offense this season.

Rookie sixth-round pick Tyler Badie showed good burst turning upfield after the catch, and he made a nifty grab in the back of the end zone in a 7-on-7 drill. Mike Davis also had a good catch as he fully extended his arms in the flat, and Justice Hill continues to look good roughly nine months after suffering a torn Achilles.

Plus, 300-pound fullback Patrick Ricard had perhaps the catch of the day as he hauled in a deflected pass with one hand.

Adding to the optimism, running back J.K. Dobbins was back at the facility and watching the practice from the sideline in workout gear as he rehabilitates his torn ACL suffered last August. Dobbins had a big hug for general manager Eric DeCosta, and Dobbins later put on a helmet and caught passes from a JUGS machine.

Last season, Ravens running backs finished with 62 catches for 411 yards, the third-fewest in the league among running backs. In fact, they have ranked in the bottom three in all three of Jackson’s full seasons as the starting quarterback. That can be attributed, in part, to Jackson’s desire under pressure to tuck it and run rather than throw a checkdown to a back.

Pass-protection ability usually dictates which backs will be on the field in passing situations, but the early indication is the backs could be a larger factor as receivers this year.

3. Nick Boyle’s return adds to a deep, crowded tight end room.

Tight end Nick Boyle was back on the field fully taking part in 11-on-11 drills, a good sign for someone who never appeared close to 100 percent last season.

“He looks like a completely new guy this year,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s unbelievable what he’s done, the hard work he’s put in. He’s looking really good.”

Boyle missed the final seven games of the 2020 season with a major left knee injury, and he battled back to appear in five games last season. But he never regained his pre-injury form and finished the season with one catch for 2 yards.

Boyle, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound anchor of the Ravens’ run game, set career highs with 31 catches for 321 yards in 2019.

The Ravens drafted a pair of receiver-oriented tight ends this year in Charlie Kolar from Iowa State and Isaiah Likely from Coastal Carolina — big, athletic targets that Roman calls “chess pieces.” They join Josh Oliver and Tony Poljan in a deep group headlined by All-Pro Mark Andrews.

With Andrews, a healthy Boyle and two rookie fourth-round picks, Oliver figures to be on the roster bubble, but he had one of the plays of the day in the June 1 workout, getting behind linebacker Malik Harrison for a long touchdown pass from Tyler Huntley.

Roman and Andrews in the past have both acknowledged how Roman’s scheme is tight-end-centric, and a healthy Boyle will only help in that regard.

4. Mike Macdonald’s preferred defense might feature seven defensive backs.

In his first news conference since taking the practice field as defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald said his goal is “to find the best 11 guys in any given situation.”

Don’t be surprised if that includes seven defensive backs. Safety Marcus Williams, the Ravens’ biggest free-agent acquisition this offseason, was on the field June 1, joining Chuck Clark and Kyle Hamilton in a trio of starting-caliber safeties. Marcus Peters watched from the sideline, and newly signed cornerback Kyle Fuller was not yet practicing, but at some point both will join Marlon Humphrey to give the Ravens three Pro Bowl cornerbacks.

They will be supported by reserves such as versatile Brandon Stephens, veteran safety Tony Jefferson, safety Geno Stone, and rookie cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis, who had an interception in the June 1 workout, and Damarion “Pepe” Williams.

Macdonald equated his depth in the secondary with his situation at Michigan last year with edge rushers: “How do we get [all] these guys out there? … It was the same idea, but just [a] different position group.”

Going with a secondary-laden lineup would make the Ravens undersized against any power run game, so this wouldn’t be a standard look. But given that the Ravens have had issues with coverage from their linebackers, don’t be surprised to see the Ravens utilize the 6-foot-4 Hamilton as a coverage option against tight ends and line up seven defensive backs.

As Macdonald said, it’s about putting the best 11 on the field.

5. Jaylon Ferguson has one last chance, and he looks well-positioned to seize it.

Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson arrived in Baltimore as a third-round pick who was going to spark the Ravens pass rush after recording 45 sacks in college. That broke the all-time FBS record that had been held by former Raven Terrell Suggs.

Ferguson, though, has yet to find his niche in three NFL seasons. He has totaled 4.5 sacks in his career, and was a nonfactor last year with six tackles and no sacks, averaging about a dozen snaps in 10 games.

Entering the final year of his rookie deal, the 6-foot-5 Ferguson was on the field for the June 1 workout looking about 20 pounds leaner than his listed playing weight of 270 pounds. Ferguson is apparently dealing with some sort of minor injury, because he was doing some sideline-to-sideline conditioning work during full-team drills.

But the Ravens’ edge rush group is paper thin right now, with Tyus Bowser sidelined by a torn Achilles and rookie second-round pick David Ojabo recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in March. The opportunities should be there throughout minicamp and training camp for Ferguson to declare that he will be a factor in the pass rush. Others in the mix along the edge right now include Daelin Hayes and Vince Biegel, both of whom have looked good in open OTA workouts, along with Odafe Oweh.

Macdonald said he is throwing some new techniques at Ferguson this spring, “so that’s a little bit of a learning curve for him, but once he gets out there full-go and rolling, I expect him to compete.”

NOTEBOOK: One notable absence from the June 1 workout was second-year guard Ben Cleveland, who has dealt with nagging injuries in his brief NFL career. Cleveland figures to be in the competition for the left guard spot with Tyre Phillips and Ben Powers. … Marcus Peters remains sidelined by the torn ACL he sustained last September, but he was on the field for the June 1 workout and always appears to be engaged. Peters doesn’t miss a chance to coach up a young defensive back between snaps, and he gave Rashod Bateman an earful after Bateman dropped a pass over the middle. Peters had a big hug for running back J.K. Dobbins, and spent time on the sideline talking to injured rookie David Ojabo. Peters came to Baltimore with a reputation of being a surly teammate, but there has been no sign of that with the Ravens. He was often on the sideline late last season while on IR, working the officials, the opposing players and coaching his teammates. His passion for the game shines through and it’s easy to see why so many in the building love him. … There was a rarity at the June 1 workout: Justin Tucker missed back-to-back kicks from about 45 yards. He’s still getting used to new holder Jordan Stout, but there’s no need to panic.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Bo Smolka

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