The moment the Baltimore Ravens and their fans have feverishly been waiting for is finally upon us. According to Head Coach John Harbaugh, rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman is slated to suit up for the first time this Sunday when the Los Angeles Chargers come to town for what will likely be a tightly contested AFC showdown.
“Very pleased,” Harbaugh said. “He obviously did a really nice job. Our trainers and strength coaches did a nice job on the rehab. He’s done well. I think you probably expect him to play in this game with Sammy [Watkins] being out. We’ll see how he does.”
Harbaugh’s comments essentially confirm reports that came out last week about the first-year wideout making his debut this week after being close to playing against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5.
The Ravens have been cautious with their top pick of the 2021 NFL draft, who they selected with the first of their two picks in the first round at No. 27 overall out of Minnesota. Bateman missed most of training camp, the entire preseason and the first five weeks of the regular season after undergoing minor surgery to repair a groin muscle.
While he is expected to play in his first game since playing in his last as a Golden Gopher on Nov. 20 of last year, Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman shared that the team still intends to ease him into action and won’t overwork him right of the back.
“He’s looking good,” Roman said. “As he ramps in, he should do nothing but get better. I don’t think we’re going to throw him into the fire for every play. I think we’re going to build him into the plan on a week-to-week basis. Rashod’s going to have a long and fruitful career. This is just the first step. We will integrate him into the plan when the time is right.”
That being said, with veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins ruled out for this week’s game, players like Bateman, third-year pro Miles Boykin and second-year receivers James Proche and Devin Duvernay will need to step up. Harbaugh said the hamstring injury Watkins suffered against Indianapolis will likely keep him out for a couple of weeks, so Bateman and company will continue to be counted on even more while he’s out of commission.
Prior to going down with his injury, Bateman was turning heads and impressing coaches, teammates, media members and fans in attendance at open practice with the dynamic playmaking ability in both individual and team drills. He’s been practicing the past three weeks since being designated to return from injured reserve and appears to have picked where he left off.
“He’s explosive,” veteran slot cornerback Tavon Young said. “I know he’s explosive off the ball, great route-runner, he’s strong. He kind of seems more polished for a young guy. When he first came in, he was making plays early. So I’m expecting him to make plays.”
Bateman’s return is the first major positive bit of news for the injury-riddled Ravens since they found out that All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley wouldn’t require another procedure on his surgically repaired ankle that has limited him to just one game this season. As he gets more acclimated, gathers his ‘sea legs,’ and builds up a better rapport with Lamar Jackson, he could emerge as another dangerous weapon in the Ravens’ suddenly prolific passing attack to go along with Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews and breakout receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.