True evaluation of team likely won’t come until season gets going
The Ravens have been in training camp for one week, but a true assessment of this team probably won’t be available until the near completion of the first quarter of the 2022 season.
Injuries to star players were the main reason the Ravens struggled last season, and it has hampered them throughout training camp this year.
Under former coach Ted Marchibroda and even Brian Billick, Ravens practices were physical enough that the star players were easily recognized.
But current coach John Harbaugh has dialed back on the hitting, and it’s hard to blame him. After last season, the Ravens had to take a different approach to offseason conditioning, on-field practices and even nutrition.
So the emphasis in this training camp has been on communication, installation and execution. Regardless of the approach, players recovering from injuries suffered a year ago, like running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marcus Peters and outside
linebacker Tyus Bowser, still wouldn’t have practiced.
They probably won’t play much in the preseason either, but Harbaugh is expecting them all to be back for the season opener at the New York Jets on Sept. 11.
So if you’re waiting for a true evaluation of this team, it probably won’t happen until three or four weeks into the regular season when the Ravens are at full-tilt and most of the kinks have been worked out.
Wide receivers to watch
The Ravens need receivers and two to keep an eye on are a pair of undrafted rookies: Devon Williams of Oregon and Shemar Bridges of Fort Valley State.
Both have good size and speed and have made plays when given the opportunity. They might have a shot at making the 53-man roster.
The 6-foot-4, 207-pound Bridges has a thick torso he uses to push off defenders. He is also unselfish and willing to block, which is a major part of the team’s run-oriented offense.
The 6-5, 211-pound Williams opened the first part of Wednesday’s practice with a one-handed catch down the right sideline for a 30-yard gain.
Both played well in the 7-on-7 period.
Rough patch for rookie
Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, the team’s top draft pick out of Notre Dame in April, has had a rough two days, and his body language tells the story.
He has gotten beat several times in one-on-one drills and during team periods, and then his shoulders slouch like he has very little energy.
In the last part of Wednesday’s practice, he dove and knocked down a pass but stayed stretched out on the field waiting for trainers to arrive. It appeared he was
having problems with his ribs or stomach.
He looks worn out only a week into training camp. Maybe he’ll get the proverbial “second wind,” but he hasn’t even played in a regular-season game and had that “Welcome to the NFL” moment.
Living on the edge
Second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh continues to have a strong training camp. He was first up against right tackle Morgan Moses in the one-on-one pass protection drill Wednesday and sped around the veteran as if he was standing still.
Oweh faced Jaryd Jones-Smith in his second matchup and got around him as well. If nothing else, this former Penn State standout is going to make 2022 an interesting season.
Another outside linebacker who stood out as a pass rusher was Steven Means, now in his eighth year out of Buffalo. He brings a lot of power on initial contact and can get offensive linemen off balance.
Film for Faalele
It’s obvious rookie right tackle Daniel Faalele reported to training camp in better shape than when he participated in minicamps.
The two biggest differences for the 6-8, 380-pound lineman are his foot speed and conditioning, but if he wants to become more of a complete tackle, he has to learn how to punch and get his arms extended when pass blocking.
Faalele pass blocks as if he is playing in the 1970’s, with his arms close to his chest. The Ravens need to roll out some game tape of Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden and let Faalele see how the former Ravens star kept opposing defensive players away from his body with that one big, powerful extended left arm.
That paw of Ogden’s was the great neutralizer.
Down the line
Ever since the 2000 season, the Ravens have usually had a strong run defense, and they should be at the top of the NFL in that department again this season.
Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike should be able to get penetration with his quickness and Calais Campbell is still one of the most complete players at his position in the league. Nose tackle Michael Pierce is playing his way into shape and he’ll get better in time.
Few teams in the NFL run better combination blocks than the Ravens, and rookie center Tyler Linderbaum and right guard Kevin Zeitler are already working well in tandem, which will only make Pierce better.
The Ravens also have rookie Travis Jones as Pierce’s backup, but the third-round pick needs to develop more quickness off the ball. Like Pierce, his conditioning needs to improve as well.
Put ‘em up
I thought the first fight of training camp might happen Wednesday after tight end Tony Poljan was called for an obvious holding penalty against outside linebacker Malik Harrison.
Harrison ripped Poljan’s helmet off and a flag was thrown for holding, but both players walked away. In 35 years of writing about the NFL, I’ve never covered a training camp without a fight.
Of course, some fights were orchestrated, but Harbaugh would never do that ... would he?
Names to know
Third-year guard Tyre Phillips was once again the best offensive lineman in pass protection Wednesday. He is just so sound and always in good position.
Another impressive player has been rookie cornerback Damarion Williams, a free agent out of Houston. The kid is always around the ball and plays with swagger.