Just about every season in Owings Mills, Ravens coach John Harbaugh will brand a new team slogan on T-shirts for coaches and players. His message in 2022: “Come to work ready to work.”
So far, so good. Over their first four days of full-team practices in training camp, the Ravens approached their preparations with good intentions. Every session seemed to provide more answers than questions. Starting Monday, though, the work gets a little more intense.
“The pads are coming on Monday, so it’s going to be exciting to see,” Harbaugh said after Saturday’s open practice at M&T Bank Stadium. “That will be the first time. The biggest thing to look for with practice is how the guys handle the mental part of it. All of a sudden, they’ve got something more to think about — the physical part of it — and not let it be too big for you.”
With the preseason opener fast approaching, this next week offers some Ravens an opportunity to build on an impressive start, and other Ravens a chance to turn their stock around. Here’s a look at who rose and who fell during the team’s first week of camp.
QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson has been the most impressive Raven in camp, which can’t hurt his leverage the next time he meets with general manager Eric DeCosta to hammer out a contract extension. Playing under an ever-intensifying spotlight, Jackson appears unburdened by expectations or pressure. He showed up to his news conference Thursday upbeat and talkative, even willing to explain his Twitter spat with former Raven Bernard Pollard.
Most encouraging, though, is Jackson’s development as a passer. Over his career, he’s struggled with his accuracy on deep shots. He’s also been reluctant to attempt back-shoulder throws, preferring instead to look for receivers crossing over the middle. Early in camp, his best completions have come from those two categories. If Jackson can continue to avoid throwing interceptions, the Ravens’ passing attack will be in good shape come Week 1.
WR Rashod Bateman
The 2021 first-round pick has lived up to expectations in his first camp as the Ravens’ top wide receiver, quieting concerns about his readiness as a replacement for Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Those inconsistent hands he showed in offseason workouts? Not a problem in camp. Field-stretching speed? Bateman caught up to a nearly 50-yard bomb Saturday down the right sideline. Consistency? “He does the same thing every practice,” Harbaugh said Saturday.
As the flag-bearer for a much-scrutinized wide receiver group, Bateman will have to stay healthy and productive in the weeks ahead. But he’s seemingly already in sync with Jackson, and he’s fared well in his one-on-one matchups with Marlon Humphrey, the kind of elite cornerback he’ll see more regularly this season.
TE Isaiah Likely
Likely’s 55-yard touchdown catch in 11-on-11 action Thursday is now all the more impressive considering the separation he created against Brandon Stephens, one of the Ravens’ better defensive backs in camp. The fourth-round pick ended June’s mandatory minicamp on a high, earning targets and praise from Jackson, and his production has continued in camp.
Even if Likely struggles early as a blocker, he should have a role in the Ravens’ passing game. After Mark Andrews said Likely has “got a little bit of me in him,” Jackson likened him to a “baby Mark right now.” Both tight ends were highly productive college players whose draft stock fell over athleticism concerns. Both have enough savvy and size to overcome those limitations.
G Ben Powers
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Friday that Powers has “probably taken the lead” in the left guard battle, a good sign for a lineman whom Ravens coaches have been reluctant to embrace at times. Powers, who’s entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, started 12 of the 13 games he played in last season. He appeared in 29 straight games from 2020 to 2021 until suffering a foot injury in December.
It’s unclear just how big of a lead Powers has on Tyre Phillips, who lined up with the first-team offense in the first 11-on-11 period of Saturday’s open practice. But Powers has put himself in good position entering the first week of padded practices.
ILB Patrick Queen
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said Friday that Queen is “on a great trajectory right now.” After bouts of inconsistency over his first two seasons in Baltimore, the 2020 first-round pick looks like a potential every-down presence for the defense. Queen has buzzed around the pocket as a blitzer, and the Ravens’ imposing defensive line should free him to make plays as a sideline-to-sideline run stopper.
If Queen can continue to improve his awareness in coverage, he’ll be one of the Ravens’ most important defenders — and a top candidate to wear the green dot as the defense’s signal-caller. With veteran inside linebacker Josh Bynes, inside linebackers coach Zach Orr and Macdonald, his former positional coach, all back in Baltimore, Queen’s comfort with the defense is obvious.
G Ben Cleveland
As Harbaugh explained Saturday, he doesn’t make exceptions for his conditioning test: “We’re not going to put a player out there until he can do it.” And through Saturday, the fourth day of camp, Cleveland hadn’t passed the test. If the 2021 third-round pick returns to practice this week, his first workout would likely be in pads — a difficult test for any player, but especially one fighting for a starting job.
Cleveland can reassert himself in the left guard battle with a strong preseason, but he’ll return to practice having squandered valuable learning opportunities. In an up-and-down rookie year, Cleveland struggled to convert his raw strength into gap-clearing power.
TE Charlie Kolar
If recent history is any consolation to Kolar, who’ll miss several weeks while he recovers from sports hernia surgery, training camp injuries are nothing new for rookie tight ends in Baltimore. A soft-tissue injury sidelined Andrews for about two weeks in 2018. Hayden Hurst later suffered a stress fracture in his foot and missed more than a month.
Kolar, the first tight end the Ravens drafted since that class, could still make an impact this season. Bateman appeared in 12 games last season after returning from a similar injury. But if Kolar’s rehabilitation also mirrors Bateman’s, the fourth-round pick might need until next offseason to fully recover.
The first week of camp is not an ideal setting for running back breakouts — no pads, no hitting, not a lot of 11-on-11 run plays. But the Ravens have had more encouraging starts at the position. Start with the team’s injury news: J.K. Dobbins, who seemed poised for a breakout 2021 before tearing his ACL in the team’s preseason finale last summer, has not been cleared to practice. Neither has Gus Edwards, whose recovery from his own ACL injury could take even longer.
The Ravens’ healthy running backs, meanwhile, have been solid but unspectacular. After flashing as a receiver in offseason workouts, rookie Tyler Badie has fallen off somewhat. Mike Davis and Justice Hill have held up well in pass protection, but it’s unclear how much they’ll offer as ball-carriers. New signing Corey Clement is still getting his bearings. Can someone separate from the pack before the preseason opener?
OLB David Ojabo
Nothing’s changed for Ojabo since the Ravens drafted him: He’s still unsigned, and he’s still months away, if not more, from being cleared to return from a torn Achilles tendon. The second-round pick was around the team for offseason workouts, but a disagreement over guaranteed money in Ojabo’s rookie contract has kept him away from the Ravens’ facility.
Ojabo can continue his rehab without the help of team doctors, but transitioning to the NFL can be as much a mental challenge as it is a physical test for rookies. The sooner Ojabo’s back for team meetings, the happier Ravens coaches will be.
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For the second time in three years, the Ravens’ initial 53-man roster could have no undrafted rookies. The team’s 16-year streak of keeping at least one undrafted free agent ended in 2020, then got back on track last year with the help of safety Ar’Darius Washington. But a roster crunch this preseason won’t make a repeat easy.
The Ravens added six wide receivers after the draft, including notable names like Slade Bolden, a national champion at Alabama, and Makai Polk, who had 1,046 yards last season at Mississippi State. But not even the group’s early standout, Fort Valley State’s Shemar Bridges, has proven more deserving of a roster spot than veteran Jaylon Moore. Other fringe players, like former Navy inside linebacker Diego Fagot, will need strong preseasons and perhaps some roster luck to secure a spot.
Preseason, Week 1
Thursday, Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM