The weather was hot, the wind was blowing strong and all 90 Ravens were on the field for the first time this year. The inevitable start of football has begun.
The Ravens held the first day of their three-day mandatory minicamp. With all 90 players and the entire coaching staff on the field at the same time, we got our first glimpse at the expected starters, the way each unit is progressing and even some of the scheme that the team will run.
Wide receiver competition continues to heat up
You'd think that players would already begin to separate themselves out a bit, but that hasn't been the case. Nearly everyone is out there playing like it is midseason and it is clear that this group is hungry.
Steve Smith was his typical self. Catching the ball from all over the field, he showed off his route running ability and solid hands yet again. On a 25 yard completion on an out route, Smith could be heard shouting at Rashaan Melvin, "I'm gonna beat your ass up all day." Smith also had a long touchdown grab where he got behind the safety and ran in for the score.
First round pick Breshad Perriman had a mixed practice. He dropped some completions early in the day, but made up for it with one of the best catches of the day. Perriman climbed the ladder for a tough completion in the middle of the field, jumping up what seemed like 5 feet into the air to snag the ball. Channeling the role of Torrey Smith, Breshad got dragged down by cornerback Kyle Arrington, earning a pass interference flag near the goal line. Perriman acknowledged some of the drops after practice and the reasons behind them, "Just really paying attention, getting too tired and really not focusing. I don’t really make excuses for it. They should have been caught, but that’s something that won’t happen too often."
The Ravens used a lot of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Steve Smith with quarterback Joe Flacco, but switched in Jeremy Butler, and DeAndre Carter a lot on the first team as well. All of the wide receivers did exceptionally well at various times. Butler, Brown, and Carter all caught passes for big plays throughout the day and all showed good hands.
The Ravens mixed up who got first, second and third team snaps. Perriman was seen on all three phases of the offense as they worked him hard all day long. They clearly want to get the rookie involved in the passing game in a variety of ways, even if he isn't starting. This is also the time for coaches to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each position and player so they can create packages that maximize the talent. This year might be the year where there is no real number system for the wide receivers, but packages that see guys switch around depending on the situation. It won't lead to big numbers for any individual player, but it will lead to better matchups and hopefully more scoring.
A tale of two quarterbacks
Again, backup quarterback Matt Schaub looked bad during practice. He threw multiple interceptions, including some directly to the defender. He was off on his accuracy, often throwing high into the players on the sideline or in the dirt on what should have been easy completions. Schaub did have a good throw to Breshad Perriman though, that allowed Perriman to use his speed to outrun everyone on the field for a touchdown. All in all, it was still a pretty bad day for the 12 year veteran.
Head coach John Harbaugh even commented on it during the interview portion.
It’s funny, because I read [how the media] always wants to write about the interceptions that Matt throws. It seems like whenever you guys are out here, he throws an interception, you know? I looked at whoever was standing next to me, I said, ‘Gosh darn, the media is here, and Matt threw an interception.’ He didn’t throw one since the last time you guys were here! I want to get that on the record.
Punt returner is an open competition
We've covered before that the competition to return kicks and punts seems to be up to everyone. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg even mentioned that "everyone but lineman" will be open to land the job, and he doesn't seem to be joking. I saw DeAndre Carter, Lardarius Webb, Asa Jackson and even Steve Smith out there fielding punts. It will be an interesting competition as camp gets started to see if anyone else is added to that and if Webb and Smith are simply the 'hands team' that will fair catch the ball or if they will be legitimate return guys.
The Ravens' defense focused on turnovers, but apparently the offense never got the memo. Kendrick Lewis, Cassius Vaughn, Matt Elam and Quinton Pointer all had interceptions. Pointer and Vaughn returned their interceptions for touchdowns. Branden Trawick had sure fire interceptions go through his hands after jumping the route perfectly.
The defense also could be seen trying to rip the ball out of offensive players' hands all day long. Maxx Williams was the victim of this at one point towards the sideline. It bounced towards the middle of the field and the defense pounced on it.
Coaches getting involved
One of the best things about minicamp is that you can see the coaches start the second phase of installing things to the young players and see how they interact with the team. Wide receiver coach Bobby Engram was out there playing defensive back on some drills, working on the receivers' ability to fake the defender inside, only to cut it out for the completion. It's the small things like that that will turn a young wide receiver corps into a great one.
New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was all over the field and when combined with offensive line coach Juan Castilo, you could hear both yelling at players for both the good and the bad plays. Head coach John Harbaugh even got serious about his 'hustle' mantra as he yelled at a player walking instead of jogging to the next part of practice.
The most important thing that I kept hearing was that coaches wanted guys on their feet and taking care of each other. It was clear that injuries are something that the coaching staff wants none of and they are paying special attention to keep players from getting into positions where injuries typically happen. If a player went down to the ground, he usually got yelled at for it. If a player pushed another one down, he got yelled at for it. After a 2014 season that saw the Ravens have a ton of injuries, the Ravens want 2015 to be a healthy season for sure.