The Baltimore Ravens’ offseason program will come to a close this week as mandatory minicamp is set to get underway. Unlike OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) and voluntary workouts, all players, including a handful of key veterans that were absent the past three weeks will be required to attend.
This will be the team’s last time together in an official capacity before reconvening for the start of training camp in late July. Starting jobs and roster spots aren’t going to be won or lost this week but this is still valuable time for players and coaches to get on the same page and add some more wrinkles to the playbook.
Here are some storylines to follow during mandatory minicamp:
Lamar Jackson -
The quarterback is the most important position in the entire sport and Jackson is one of the best in the game. However, doubts of his passing ability continue to persist. Even on-target passes that aren’t perfect spirals get relentlessly critiqued.
Minicamps serve as glorified throwing sessions for signal-callers and their pass-catchers since defensive players often pull up so they don’t collide and risk injury. With some new toys to throw to in the passing game, Jackson needs all the gelling time in a team setting he can get before the summer break.
Also, expect to see reports of how he looks taking more snaps under center after Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said it would be a part of the expanded profile.
New weapons -
The most important and what will likely be the most talked-about storyline is the chemistry between the former league MVP and his upgraded pass-catching corps. Many in the media believe that Jackson has no more excuses after General Manager Eric surrounded him with more dynamic talent in the passing game this offseason.
Veteran receiver Sammy Watkins missed the first week of OTAs but impressed coaches and teammates with his performance in the following two. Rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace have looked good as well, displaying their refined route-running ability in the process. All three players will be watched closely this week as they continue to build up their rapport with Jackson. Tight End Josh Oliver was an offseason trade acquisition and will be another player to watch as he is in the thick of a battle to win the third spot on the depth chart.
Progress of rookies -
Bateman and Wallace are members of a Ravens’ rookie class that will be counted on to make immediate impacts in year one as either starters or key rotational pieces. They’ve been hard at work trying to learn and master their playbooks since rookie minicamp as they do their best to get up to speed and ready to compete with the veterans and more experienced players.
Rookie outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes will need to be quick learners and instant contributors after the Ravens lost Pro Bowlers Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. Both players possess versatile skill sets that they flashed during OTAs and can affect the passing game with coverage as well as rushing off the edge.
Third-rounder Ben Cleveland is viewed as the current favorite to win the starting left guard spot but will be in a tight race with Ben Powers, among others. Tight End/H-back Ben Mason will likely take most of the snaps at fullback since two-time Pro Bowler Patrick Ricard is still recovering from offseason hip surgery.
It will be curious to see where and how versatile defensive backs Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade are used. Starting nickel corner Tavon Young is still recovering from a torn ACL and the Ravens lack viable depth at safety behind starters DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark. Wade will likely be running with the first team in the slot in full-team and seven on seven drills. Following the draft, DeCosta said the Ravens envision Stephens as a free safety.
Second-year players making more strides-
The Ravens’ top two draft picks from last year were also the top two contributors from the class. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen and running back J.K. Dobbins made a lot of plays as rookies in 2020 but they also left some on the field. They each attacked their perceived areas of weakness this offseason and showcased the improvements they made during OTAs.
For Queen, it was his knowing where to be and making more plays in coverage and for Dobbins, it was being more of a threat in the passing game. Queen didn’t pick off any passes in team drills according to reports but he was consistently in the right place and broke up some passes. Dobbins made the best catch of the offseason program last week on the third and final session that was open to the media.
If they can keep up the good work, while second-year defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and slot receiver Devin Duvernay continue to show signs of improvement as well, the Ravens will be an even more dangerous team in 2021.
Starting defense -
The Ravens starting secondary is coming back intact as long as Young is ready to go by Week 1 but the front seven will be looking drastically different on the edge with Judon, Ngakoue, and Jihad Ward gone. Tyus Bowser will assume a larger role as the full-time starting SAM and veteran Pernell McPhee will likely open as the starting RUSH but expect the rookies to see some time rotating with the first-team unit as well.
After not having the projected starting interior of the defensive line on the field at the onset and for the majority of OTAs, the Ravens will have defensive end Calais Campbell, nose tackle Brandon Williams, and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe back together again. The veteran trio has the potential to be among the league’s best when healthy.
After a 2020 campaign that was marred by injuries and missed time due to COVID-19, they will be determined to stay on the field and play at a high level for what might be their last year together. The contracts of both Williams and Campbell are set to expire after this upcoming season and there’s no guarantee either will be back in 2022.