Ravens Training Camp Preview: What and Who to Watch
Good news Ravens fans, the wait is over. Padded practices are finally here. Training camp provides the first taste of real football during the offseason. More physicality, realistic in-game scenarios, and unfortunately, a greater likelihood of injuries come with the onset of training camp. Different from non-contact and padless practices fans and players have been accustomed to thus far this offseason, training camp will allow us to see certain players stand out from the bunch, giving us an idea of who has truly improved, impressed, or regressed.
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What to Watch
Offense vs Defense
We all know how stellar the Ravens defense was game in and game out during last season. Yes, the team lost core defensive players in CJ Mosley, Z’Darius Smith, and future hall of famer Terrell Suggs during free agency this offseason. At the same time, that provides opportunities for younger and unproven players to take advantage of more snaps. With homegrown defensive players being given chances to fill major voids, along with the major addition of one of the NFL’s best safeties in Earl Thomas, the Ravens defense should remain among the NFL’s best. Contrary to the team’s rock-solid defense, the state of the Ravens offense will be one of the main topics of discussion heading into the regular season. With the implementation of a completely new system under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman, it will be interesting to see how the re-tooled offense fares against the formidable defense during live practices.
Greg Roman’s Play calling
Ravens fans must be excited to see how Greg Roman calls the offense’s plays after years of former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s seemingly plain and predictable play calling abilities. With a full offseason to implement the revamped and meticulously planned offensive system, Roman has a clear plan on how to utilize newly acquired offensive weapons. With the injection of world-class speed via the 2019 draft class (the practice status of speedy 1st round pick WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown remains to be seen), the addition of RB Mark Ingram, and Lamar Jackson holding the keys to the offense, Roman’s play calling will be like nothing Ravens fans have ever seen.
The Contrast of Speed and Power Within the Ravens Offense
The Ravens offense for this upcoming season is arguably the fastest in team history. The entire NFL already respects the world-class speed of QB Lamar Jackson. At the same time, the addition of rookie home-run hitting playmakers in WR Hollywood Brown and RB Justice Hill will make the team’s offense much more dangerous with them on the field. Let’s not forget the underrated 4.42 speed of rookie 3rd round receiver Miles Boykin. With his 6’4, 220 lb frame, paired with his ability to zoom past defenders and strong hands, he will also command respect on the practice field and in games. The injection of speed contrasts to the team’s stable of running backs that reflect the continuation of the power-run scheme that flourished late last season. The addition of touted veteran, Mark Ingram and the return of last year’s starter, Gus Edwards shows that the team will look to build off of their successful 2nd ranked rushing offense. How will the polar opposites of power and speed coexist within the offense? How does Greg Roman plan on utilizing both traits to make the offense even more successful than it was last year? We will see.
Who to Watch
RB Kenneth Dixon
Kenneth Dixon faces an uphill battle to make the Ravens roster. With so much talent throughout, Dixon needs to impress to give himself any sort of shot of making the team. Granted, Dixon always proves to be one of the offense’s best playmakers during the latter part of the regular season. Dixon has never played a full season because of injuries and suspensions that hold him back year-to-year, but he averaged an impressive 4.3 yards per carry in 2016 and an even better 5.6 yards per carry last season. With the additions of Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, Dixon must remain healthy and flash his December greatness in July to make the team.
TE Hayden Hurst
Last season, Hayden Hurst failed to establish himself as a favorite target of both QBs Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson. A preseason foot injury never allowed him to be 100%. Consequently, fellow TE Mark Andrews established himself as a favorite target of Lamar Jackson, which ultimately made Hurst a ghost during some games. Despite the underwhelming rookie season, Hurst is 100% healthy and apparently put on 20 lbs of muscle. If Hurst wants to be a key cog in this year’s offense, he will need to make plays in training camp and prove his worth as a 1st round pick.
WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown
Expectations are high for this year’s 1st round rookie, Hollywood Brown. Coming off of an absolutely stellar season at Oklahoma, fans cannot wait to see his success continue at the NFL level. However, a Lisfranc foot injury has prevented Brown from taking part in any offseason practices. By constantly rehabbing his foot with the help of Ravens trainers, all signs point towards Brown making his debut for the Ravens in training camp; he just needs clearance to practice. Even if Brown gets cleared for training camp, he will be playing catch up after missing Minicamp and OTAs where reps and developing chemistry with Lamar Jackson would have been essential. With the preseason approaching, Brown will need to bring his A-game if he wants to see himself with the first team offense and be the headline receiver the Ravens expect him to be.
DT Michael Pierce
Showing up to mandatory minicamp overweight and out of shape was not a good start to the star nose guard’s offseason. Pierce play last season greatly contributed to the Ravens being among the NFL’s best rush defenses. Pierce is entering a contract year where he will surely garner a large payday, but first, he must show up to training camp in shape, of proper weight, and ready to prove his worth. Though the Ravens coaching staff fully expects Pierce to enter training camp of ideal physical condition, his play and conditioning will be something to monitor.
S DeShon Elliot
Ravens players and coaches raved about DeShon Elliot’s play during minicamp and OTAs. Elliot never saw the field last season because of a forearm injury that put him on I.R. Clearly, Elliot looks improved from his rookie season as he constantly made plays while taking advantage of more snaps during OTAs and minicamp. Now with the defense at full strength, starting safeties Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas will man the back end of the defense. What does that mean for Elliot? He will need to continue to make plays to find himself on the field in sub packages (since he won’t be taking the jobs of Jefferson and Thomas). As long as he continues to impress, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will find ways to put the former 6th round pick on the field.
FS Earl Thomas
After losing Mosley, Smith, and Suggs, GM Eric DeCosta ponied up serious cash to sign free agent FS Earl Thomas. Many consider Thomas to be a future Hall of Famer, but serious injuries in 2016 and 2018 cut both seasons short. That being said, Thomas’ ability to impact games when healthy is unmatched. After spending the previous nine seasons with the Seahawks with his final sendoff involving a middle finger gesture towards Head Coach Pete Carrol, Thomas starts fresh with the Ravens. As an established veteran, how will Thomas coexist with other teammates? Will he stay healthy? Will he return to his peak form as one of the NFL’s best ball hawking safeties? We see if any of these questions can be answered during training camp.
A good training camp will be key for the Ravens to start the regular season strong, defend the AFC North, and make a playoff run. Excitement brews as fans and pundits will find answers to their questions when the pads come on starting July 25th.
Adrian was born and raised in Baltimore and is a huge fan of both the Ravens and Orioles. He is currently a Freshman at Franklin and Marshall College looking to double major in History and Economics. He is also a member of the Men’s Varsity tennis team where he will help lead the team to a hopeful conference title.