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Training Camp Observations and Closing Thoughts: 8/13

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Tuesday was the final day of open-camp at The Castle

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Today’s thoughts:

Marquise Brown, Maurice Canady and Earl Thomas joined throughout practice after initially sitting out.

The Ravens were in shorts today, as they’re two days out from their final home pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. Practice started out with kick return and kick coverage refinements for the opening half hour.

Coach Harbaugh has invested major time involved in kick and punt team orchestration. The Ravens had some weak spots in ‘18 utilizing many first year players and fresh faces that allowed bigger returns than Jerry Rosberg’s units typically do. That shouldn’t be the case this year.

The Ravens special teams units should consist of some combination of the following players (depending upon who makes the opening day roster). . .

  • Anthony Levine
  • Chuck Clark
  • Brynden Trawick and/or Justin Bethel
  • Tim Williams
  • Tyus Bowser
  • Patrick Ricard
  • Hayden Hurst
  • Gus Edwards
  • Justice Hill
  • Cyrus Jones
  • Iman Marshall
  • Kenny Young
  • Chris Board
  • Tyus Bowser
  • Chris Moore/5th and 6th WR

This group will be experienced, hungry and imposing to handle on for opponents.

The practice broke into positional groups, where I went to the grater and watched offensive line units fire under the metal apparatus and hit pads. Patrick Mekari took first team reps at left guard, and James Hurst manned the right side with Yanda out again.

Later, in seven-on-seven drills, Mekari got in at least 50 reps snapping the ball for each quarterback. Mekari is built athletically with massive arms and a lean lower body. He utilizes good hand placement and sharp first steps. He doesn’t overextend himself. He looks to be a nice UDFA pickup by the front office and he should expect major snap-share on Thursday.

Bradley Bozeman took second team center duties. He also shuffled to right guard with the first and second team, along with Jermaine Eluemunor.

Robert Griffin III spent time throwing check downs, which is encouraging. He didn’t participate in live drills.

Lamar Jackson and the first-team offense started out sloppy and lackadaisical in the first seven-on-seven session. Jackson repeatedly checked down and held the ball too long. Jackson later threw short of Michael Floyd down the seam and was intercepted by Tony Jefferson. This sparked a ton of energy for the remainder of practice from Jefferson, who was barking at the second team defense all morning. Jefferson is certainly the hype-man defensively. Every time Earl Thomas makes a play, Jefferson engulfs him hollering, “Earrrrrl!”

Miles Boykin has worked exclusively with the first team over the past two days. I say confidently that Boykin is a starting caliber X-receiver. He varies his release and route speed effectively. The same is done in his routes. Once he opens up his strides, he cruises past defenders with ease. He’s too big for most corners to knock off of his route and fluid enough to challenge them vertically. His catch radius is the largest that I’ve ever seen in person consistently.

His combine vertical jump was recorded at 43.5-inches and he uses every bit of it in the red-zone. At over 6-foot-4 he skies above defenders daily. Today’s victim was Justin Bethel, who Boykin rose above to catch a perfectly placed jump ball thrown by Lamar Jackson. The young receivers acrobatic acumen and balance are quite graceful. Miles Boykin has been a pleasure to watch over the past three weeks.

Following a sloppy performance in seven-on-seven, the offense tightened up in full 11-on-11. On the first play of the session, Miles Boykin sold inside before breaking towards the sideline and reeled in a 20-yard reception.

Willie Snead lined up at all three receiver spots and motions across the formation constantly. He’s had a great camp and had his best catch of the summer. He lined up in the slot, then ran an outside release to the sideline on a fade and rose above a defender to bring in a contested catch. He’s more than just a slot receiver.

Hayden Hurst had an impressive day. Trace McSorley found him deep bending a post down the seam where Hurst easily would’ve gone the distance. McSorley also connected with Jaleel Scott on aforementioned slants, including one ahead of Bennett Jackson, where Scott might’ve scored from 75-yards out in live action.

Shane Ray and Otaro Alaka were menacing on two rollouts, trapping McSorley in the backfield. Alaka seems to have ascended up the depth chart ahead the rest of the UDFA linebackers and locked down the second unit.

E.J. Ejiya intercepted a tipped ball, his first impact play that I’ve seen in coverage. I was extremely high on the North Texas product when the Ravens signed him. He has been quiet throughout camp.

Hollywood Brown made his way into live action, hauling in a slant from Trace McSorley and flying downfield. He possesses unique movement skills. Brown is reminiscent of a jitterbug with twitchy and explosive footwork in his cuts. He hits a top rather suddenly. The quarterbacks have had trouble getting the timing down with Hollywood, often failing to connect.

On one play, the Ravens trotted out 12 personnel, then spread out into a wide two-by-two formation with each receiver off the L.O.S. behind a tight end. The play ran a double screen and went to Chris Moore, but Hollywood would’ve had plenty of daylight behind Charles Scarff.

Lamar Jackson picked up his play. No. 8 launched a pass to the deep-left-corner 35-yards downfield, connecting with Mark Andrews. Andrews blew past Cyrus Jones for a 75-yard score. This ended the first team’s reps of the session.

The team then broke into split field seven-on-seven at the goal-line/red-zone. The defense’s coverage dominated the early portion of the drill. Kenny Young is lightening quick in coverage and swallowed up underneath routes consistently.

Sean Modster slipped into the flat and Lamar Jackson delivered the ball just past the goal line, uncovered. This prompted Tony Jefferson to step towards Maurice Canady, who was lost in coverage. Jefferson told Canady to ‘be better!’

Lamar Jackson got hot on the goal line again today, throwing four straight touchdown passes. When Jackson gets the ball out quickly, he’s much more successful. He’s been far too hesitant at times to get the ball out, which will result in sacks.

Jackson connected with Jaylen Smith, Mark Ingram, Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews (twice) and Miles Boykin in a flurry of touchdown passes. Boykin rising above Bethel was the play of the day, which caused fans and teammates to roar in celebration.

Tony Jefferson was upset with Patrick Onwuasor for failing to cover behind Mark Ingram. Ingram broke inside on an option route past Jefferson and ahead of Onwuasor.

Trace McSorley found Michael Floyd for a score, who ‘Mossed’ Maurice Canady. Canady hasn’t impressed me throughout camp and is on the chopping block. McSorley has developed chemistry with Cole Herdman, finding him several times today.

Herdman caught a dart from McSorley, who turns his velocity up in the red-zone. The rookie QB appears more comfortable stepping into throws in the red-zone, which he needs to do more in the open-field on Thursday.

A tit-for-tat goal-line passing drill began to get extremely chippy. Tempers erupted suddenly, which resulted in Chuck Clark throwing punches into Nick Boyle’s face-mask. Jefferson sprinted onto the field to break the skirmish apart and replace Clark in coverage. On the next play, Lamar Jackson fired a pass to Hayden Hurst just past the goal-line. Hurst secured the ball, spiked it, then flexed and bellowed, “Let’s go!” capping off a great day for the second-year tight-end.

Coaches then separated the offense and defense for more 11-on-11, which was unusual. Typically the team moves to the 25 for 11-on-11, but without pads on and tempers flaring, it appeared the coaches wanted to prevent any further contact. The two sides are sick of one another and crave a fresh opponent. Expect them to be physically imposing Thursday.

Thoughts at the End of Open-Camp:

Training camp has been much more cautious in regards to player health and safety. The strength and conditioning team has done wonders over the past few years. Head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders has emphasized preventative measures to improve ligament and balanced muscle strength. Health and depth are two of the major components for a successful season at any level.

The defense struggles to defend the flats. Throughout practices against themselves and the Jaguars, miscommunication has shown a potential Achilles heel. The linebackers show outstanding range, but a disconnect on who is responsible for covering the flats.

Lamar Jackson’s mechanics have improved tenfold, but he holds the ball too long. He’s at his best throwing in rhythm. He avoids throwing many interceptions, but with the left guard position in question he could face some serious pressure. Speaking of the left guard situation. . .

The Ravens have been in constant flux at both guard spots. A healthy Marshal Yanda will obviously lock down right guard. Left guard, however, has seen Eluemunor, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman and Patrick Mekari. Mekari intrigues me because he’s flown under the radar. Any offensive line coach will profess that continuity is imperative for success up front. The Ravens have lacked that continuity and need to figure something out in the coming weeks.

Matt Skura has bulked up and looks more like an NFL lineman than years prior, which is encouraging. His anchor in pass-pro is inconsistent and hopefully first team reps have helped.

Kenny Young and Chris Board will both see snaps. Young makes a ton of impact plays, is strong in coverage and can get pressure the A-gap. I expect him to outplay Chris Board by October and earn a more solid role.

Miles Boykin is a stud. He has shown a balanced game. I’ve touched on it several times and will do so in great detail on the next Baltimore Beatdown podcast episode.

Marlon Humphrey is the top press-man corner in the NFL He attacks from the snap and is a major disrupter. Brandon Carr is more passive and likes to close when the ball is in the air. The secondary is as advertised.

Fans have underestimated the impact of Mark Ingram joining the team. Ingram is incredible in pass protection and is rock solid from the three pillars of his position: hitting the hole, pass-pro and receiving. The last two prevent the offense from tipping their cap with him on the field. He will protect Lamar Jackson, who is still developing his pre-snap communication.

On that note, Jackson has mentally skyrocketed from last season. During 2018 camp, Marty Mornhinweg constantly had to disrupt the huddle to help Jackson make the right call. Greg Roman rarely interferes. Jackson has a complete understanding of how to line the offense up and where each teammate should be.

While the Ravens defense has many new faces, their attitude remains the same. Play fast and rally to the ball. This mentality has been instilled for 20 years regardless of coordinator, personnel, owner or coach. Rallying to gang-tackle is the reason for the Ravens defense has finishing inside the top-five more than outside of the top-15. For two decades the organization has exemplified this attitude. 2019 will be more of the same. This unit will finish inside the top-10 in points and yards allowed.

The final note is that the Ravens have spent, by my estimation, 75% of camp working on the passing game. They throw the ball all day every day in practice. They’re not going to run the ball nearly as much as general media portrays, and anyone who has paid close attention will say the same. They’re going to be multiple, attack defenses in every way possible and be creative. Expect Lamar Jackson to certainly eclipse 400 pass attempts over 16 games.

This concludes my coverage of 2019 Ravens training camp. For more information, news and content listen to the Baltimore Beatdown Podcast. Jake Louque and I will be ramping up coverage as the season gets closer. Enjoy the rest of summer!