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Ravens News 7/3: Nickel-dime base defense, left guard battle and more

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Minicamp Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens receivers coach David Culley made a strong impression. Can he make a difference? - Aaron Kasinitz

Culley, 63, joined the Ravens’ staff this year with a multi-pronged title. He’s a wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and assistant head coach, and each label hints at the same task: Baltimore hopes Culley can use his 25 years of NFL experience to transform a unique offense into a balanced one.

Harbaugh lured Culley away from his job as the Bills’ quarterbacks coach by offering him the opportunity to have a large say in the formation of a new playbook. Before joining Buffalo, Culley served as Andy Reid’s wide receivers coach with the Eagles and the Chiefs, where he had a hand in conducting some of the most explosive NFL offenses of the past two decades.

The Ravens have struggled for years to draft and develop quality wideouts, a process they want to master to surround Jackson with productive targets.

That’s where Culley’s expertise as a wide receivers coach enters the equation. Sure, he’ll draw up gameplans and offer aid to Jackson, but at practices, Culley’s making all that noise in an effort to tutor his wide receivers. He’s a teacher first and play designer second, Harbaugh said.

Why the Ravens’ ‘Dead Period’ Isn’t So Dead - John Eisenberg

Another matter of considerable significance happening right now is the culmination of rookie wide receiver Marquise (Hollywood) Brown’s recovery from the Lisfranc injury that ended his college career prematurely.

It didn’t keep the Ravens from making him their top draft pick in April, but it did keep him out of every spring practice. That’s not necessarily a huge deal, but if he continues to miss practice time once training camp gets underway, we’re starting to talk about an issue that could impact his rookie season. Foot injuries can be tricky. Just ask Hayden Hurst.

As always, the team has several lingering injury issues coming out of minicamp, but no doubt, Brown’s is the biggest. The Ravens are optimistic about him, and as with Pierce, they’re counting on him being an important puzzle piece in 2019. But the first step is seeing him on the field.

Ravens wait for ‘cream’ to surface in battle for starting left guard - Giana Han

Three players — veterans James Hurst and Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie Ben Powers — emerged as likely candidates for the starting spot during offseason workouts, and the competition could continue deep into training camp.

“I think that’s how football should be,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said during mandatory minicamp in June. “I think, give everyone the chance. Between now and our opener, we don’t know what’s going to happen per player. So let’s let each day take its course, and let’s see how each player plays. Usually, the cream surfaces to the top at the very end.”

Powers, 22, is the youngest of the group, but he’s picked up the offense quickly, Hurst said.

“He’s a great guy, hard worker, great communicator,” Hurst said. “So that’s put him in a position to get a lot of meaningful snaps.”

“He has some instinctive qualities that sometimes aren’t coached,” D’Alessandris said of Powers. “He can see and react to situations with that innate ability.”

“The offensive line is all about chemistry between the five guys,” Hurst said. “You’ve got to act as one, so the longer you can have a starter in there playing with the left tackle and the center, the better.”

2018 Defensive Personnel Analysis - Bryan Knowles

“Base” defense is, at this point, a term that needs replacing; it’s simply no longer even remotely accurate. Nobody played base on the majority of their snaps in 2018; only two teams (the Broncos and Rams) even had it as plurality of their snaps. This isn’t because plays are being equally distributed amongst formations, either; 25 teams spent more than half their defensive snaps in nickel defenses, and one (the Chargers) even spent more than half the time in dime packages. “Base” defense in the modern NFL is a five-man secondary; your nickel corner is a far more valuable player than your third linebacker or fourth lineman.

Team BAL Base 16% Rk 29 Nickel 57% Rk 23 Dime+ 26% Rk 6

This year, Baltimore also joins the nickel-dime-base crew; a wide departure from 2017’s numbers now that Don Martindale has taken control.