The Baltimore Ravens are set to open their mandatory three-day mini camp today. After voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) taking place over the last three weeks, fans and the local media are ready to see the progress of star quarterback Lamar Jackson. The star quarterback has been a noticeable absentee from all of the voluntary workouts thus far. Jackson has been working with a personal quarterback coach, focusing on his mechanics heading into the 2022 season. Speculation has run rampant about why Jackson has worked out on his own, especially since there have been ongoing contract negotiations for an extension with no agreement in sight.
The rookie class and second-year players have been getting a lot of reps in the last few weeks in preparation for mandatory mini-camp and training camp set to start at the end of July. The next three days will be important to see where the team is in a cohesive aspect. We will get a chance to see the progress of second-year wide receiver Rashod Bateman, the new “WR1” of the offense.
All Eyes On Eight
The absence of Lamar Jackson has been quite the topic of conversation amongst Ravens’ faithful and the talking heads of the local media. The fan base has seemed to be divided on their stance. A certain portion of the fan base isn’t stressing the absence of Jackson. He reported to “The Castle” in Owings Mills, Md., yesterday with noticeable muscle mass gain and looked to be focused. All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey recorded his arrival via his Instagram story.
The more vocal portion of the Baltimore fan base has been bashing Jackson for “not displaying leadership” and being “selfish.” Other star quarterbacks have skipped the same workouts and have not been criticized in this manner. There have been accusations of his absence revolving around the lack of a lucrative extension. Some fans have gone as far as to vocalize his supposed efforts to get traded ahead of the 2022 season. This is all of this even after Lamar has vocalized his commitment to the team for this season and beyond. The same portion of the fanbase has chastised Jackson for engaging with fans and analysts on social media, often firing back at criticisms and misconceptions. Recently, Jackson took exception to a tweet aimed his way from former NFL quarterback and NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms.
The main focal point of Lamar Jackson’s presence should be his mechanics and connection with his pass-catching groups. Jackson hosted a workout for his wide receivers not long ago to maintain chemistry. It will be telling if his private coach is paying dividends in his pursuit to improve his overall game. Granted, these will only be non-contact practices. So, getting a gauge on his mechanics will be more difficult, given the absence of full pads.
Another important aspect of the mini-camp will be the fact that Jackson will not have his best friend Marquise Brown catching passes. Brown was traded to Arizona on Draft Day 2022 for the 23rd overall pick of the first round. Baltimore would go on to select center Tyler Linderbaum with the acquired pick. With the season fast approaching, Baltimore seems to be staying steadfast with the current group of wide receivers barring camp cuts. It will be interesting to see Jackson’s chemistry with Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, and Tylan Wallace. We all know the Jackson-Mark Andrews connection will be ready to go.
Baltimore’s Pass Catchers
The Baltimore Ravens head into today’s mini-camp with the aforementioned group of wide receivers. Rashod Bateman, Baltimore’s 2021 first-round pick, is primed to be the primary wide receiver for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense for 2022. Bateman is joined by third-year wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche and second-year receiver Tylan Wallace. Undrafted rookie wide receivers Slade Bolden of Alabama and Makai Polk of Mississippi State (I projected that both would make the 53-man roster last week) join the receiving corps amongst a handful of other wideouts.
Judging by the years of experience in the wide receiver room, Baltimore has not gone their typical route of adding an experienced veteran to help the rookies. In recent years, the likes of Sammy Watkins, Seth Roberts, Willie Snead, John Brown, and Michael Crabtree have been added to the team to add veteran presence. I am a fan of this approach. Baltimore needs to see what the youngsters are made of. The top four wide receivers on the depth chart have been drafted in the first four rounds of the last three years.
When the team has added veterans over the years, it has taken snaps away from their young wideouts. Devin Duvernay has suffered the most from this practice. Duvernay, a 2020 third-round pick, has been pigeon-holed into the third receiver/return man spot due to the presence of a veteran free agent. Duvernay saw little volume of passes and was used more in the often predictable jet-sweep run game. This year, Duvernay and fellow 2020 draft pick James Proche will have the opportunity to win the coveted “WR2” spot behind Rashod Bateman.
It goes without saying, but we all know that Mark Andrews’s spot as the starting tight end is secured. Andrews is the best tight end in football. Full stop. Behind Andrews on the depth chart, Nick Boyle is the only other returning tight end from the 2021 season. Baltimore drafted tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely to round out the position. Although they weren’t selected in higher rounds, the double-dip tight end selections brought back the memory of the 2018 Draft selections of Hayden Hurts and Mark Andrews.
Charlie Kolar is a typical Baltimore Ravens-style tight end. Kolar possesses the ideal size for the offense and has the ability to get open in zone defense. He also has deceptive speed and quickness. Isaiah Likely will be one rookie to watch over the next few days. It likely is built like a tight end but has the speed of a track star. He likely was the only player in college football with five touchdowns over 50 yards last year. That type of explosive ability paired with Mark Andrews will spell 2019-esque trouble for opposing defenses.
What Will The Offensive Line Look Like?
After an absolutely brutal 2021 season with the offensive line group, we will get our first look at the potential starting five along the most important part of the offense. Lamar Jackson spent most of the games he played running for his life in 2021. The season-ending injury to left tackle Ronnie Stanley was what sent the offensive line into a 16-game tailspin. Free-agent offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva was a turnstile against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week One last season. It only got worse from there.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva was an absolute disaster of an experiment. Nothing personal against the guy. There was a reason the Steelers did not re-sign him. Teams don’t let serviceable offensive tackles walk in free agency. His body ended up betraying him, and he did not play at a level he was used to playing. That being said, returning right guard Kevin Zeitler will be paired with free-agent signee Morgan Moses.
Morgan Moses joins a group ready to return to prominence. Ronnie Stanley appears to be on the mend and ready for 2022. Tyler Linderbaum, the second Ravens 2022 first-round draft pick, is penciled in to be the starting center. Head coach John Harbaugh generally makes rookies earn their starting spots, but for obvious reasons, it’s Linderbaum’s to lose. Linderbaum is the most highly-touted pure center prospect of the last decade. Swiss army knife lineman Patrick Mekari will compete for the open left guard position along with the returning Tyre Phillips, Ben Cleveland, Ben Powers, and Trystan Colon. Rookie offensive tackle Daniel Faalele and veteran tackle Ju’waan James will be competing for swing tackle reps. James, a former Denver Bronco, is recovering from a 2020 Achilles tear. It remains to be seen how he has progressed.
As it appears from a logical standpoint, the starting five should be Stanley-Mekari-Linderbaum-Zeitler-Moses as long as all five are healthy. Cleveland, Phillips, Colon, and Powers will compete for backup spots along with the inside OL spots, while James and Faalele compete for swing tackle duties. Harbaugh tends to throw us a curve ball and trot out a somewhat illogical starting five on occasion. The camp battles for the open left guard and backup roles will be interesting.
A Glimpse of the New Look Defense
New Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has his work cut out for him. The defense is an eclectic mix of players. Along the interior defensive line, with the exception of Justin Madubuike and 2022 third-round pick Travis Jones, the group is full of 30 years and up players. Leading the way is soon-to-be 36-year-old Calais Campbell; Derek Wolfe is 32, Michael Pierce is 30, and Brent Urban is 31. It will be interesting to see how Macdonald’s uses this group.
Contrary to the elder statesmen defensive line group, the linebacker group is relatively young. Josh Bynes is the lone linebacker over 30 years of age. Vince Biegel is pushing 30 and will be considered a veteran of the group. The rest are under 25 and still reek of baby breath. Youngsters Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser, and Jaylon Ferguson will look to keep the defense fast and aggressive. Two names to look for in the linebackers group will be rookies Diego Fagot and Zacoby McClain. Both are extremely fast and fly around the field.
Ferguson will be the man to keep an eye on. He has received rave reviews throughout voluntary workouts. The Baltimore Ravens appear to be set with this group moving forward. The team recently hosted veteran pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul for a visit, so he may be in the fold if the funds are available.
Last but certainly, not least is the secondary. This group presents the perfect mix of veterans and younger players. I’d dare to say the most balanced portion of the defense. All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are in their respective primes. Free-agent signee Marcus Williams appears to be entering his prime years. Chuck Clark is the veteran in the safety room.
Highly touted rookie free safety Kyle Hamilton will provide the spark to the secondary along with 2022 fourth-round draft picks Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams. Veteran free-agent acquisition and hometown kid Kyle Fuller (fellow Mount St. Joseph High School alumni!) is the veteran depth cornerback needed to balance the secondary.
With the presence of Hamilton, Williams, and Clark, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will have plenty of ways to get all three on the field simultaneously. Macdonald utilized a lot of three safety looks while calling the defense for the Michigan Wolverines in 2021. While mini-camp is vanilla in terms of defenses being ran, it will be a must-see for fans yearning for change from the Wink Martindale defenses.
Ravens’ Special Teams
Future Hall of Fame kicker Justin Tucker remains the special teams’ captain. Rookie fourth-round punter Jordan Stout replaces long-time punter and fan-favorite Sam Koch. Koch announced his retirement last month after a fantastic 16-year career. With Stout being a rather high selection, keep an eye on his work alongside Justin Tucker and how the chemistry forms.