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The best ability & intriguing players ahead of the Ravens first preseason game

A few lesser known players have stood out in camp and will put their mettle to the test in the first Ravens preseason game since 2019

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Baltimore Ravens Training Camp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

With the first preseason game marks the near end of training camp in Owings Mills, Maryland, as the Baltimore Ravens prepare to host the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. Wednesday, the Ravens were without a laundry list of players at practice, which is commonplace a few weeks into camp as sore muscles pile up.

Again on Thursday, the Ravens were without many expected contributors, while some returned from veteran days, others did not.

As the old saying goes, “the best ability is availability” and several Ravens have continued to show up day after day despite the humidity and physical gruel of camp. Those who are available get reps. Those who take reps get snaps in the regular season. In a sport where athletes may spend a higher proportion of time on the practice field than any other, trust must be earned ahead of games. It’s as simple as that.

While many of the players absent Wednesday were given the day off, there have certainly been enough bumps and bruises to inspire caution into the training staff, therefore coaching staff, regarding the number of reps players are taking, particularly as the Maryland humidity thickens each day. With that being said, certain players have endured the dog days of summer and are primed to get ample playing time against the Saints. Here’s those who pique interest. . .

James Proche— WR:

The second-year receiver has emphatically proven that he belongs on the Ravens roster, regardless of any variables. He’s consistently showed up nearly every day as a reliable and gritty pass catcher, who may have the best set of hands on the team. While he hasn’t quite shown the ability to separate at a high level, his focus and determination have been superb. Proche has made highlight reel catches throughout camp, particularly in contested situations. Baltimore hasn’t had a viable receiver that can consistently make plays in tight coverage in a few years, aside from Mark Andrews. According to Pro Football Focus, Andrews (in 2020 only) is the only Raven to catch 10 contested targets in a season, dating back to 2015 when the statistic began being charted. For reference, 57 receivers have had 10 contested catches in a season over the past two years.

Proche’s competitiveness and focus will be a welcome sight. He’s a short strider who lacks deep speed, but attacks the ball with confidence and competes after the catch. Proche, who returned 23 punts for Baltimore in 2020, would also be a welcome contributor to a group that’s struggled to gain yards after the catch. According to Sports Info Solutions, no Raven had a missed/forced tackle rate that ranked in the top-80 in the NFL last year (minimum of 25 targets). While Proche might not be an elite separator, if he can reel in contested catches and generate yards after the catch, it will be a welcome sight to a team that’s put focal energy into making their passing attack more dangerous. With only three targets and no preseason, the SMU product didn’t get to prove what he can do for his offense last year. That will presumably change over the next three weeks, when Proche will get every opportunity to earn more regular season reps if he keeps up his pace.

Tyre Phillips— OT/OG:

As was the case with Proche, Phillips didn’t have a preseason in his rookie year to make mistakes and learn from. In contrast, though, he was thrusted into a starting role in week one against the Cleveland Browns as the Ravens right guard. The former college tackle started the first five games, before beginning an odd rotation with veteran D.J. Fluker. The pair would trade series, some games Phillips getting more snaps, others, Fluker. This smelled like an idea to keep opposing pass rushers on their toes despite the coaching staff not trusting either lineman to survive a full game.

With star tackle Ronnie Stanley recovering from ankle surgery, Phillips has spent a substantial amount of time as the Ravens first team left tackle throughout training camp, while also taking reps at guard. He’s looked strong in one-on-one reps at times, with an athletic pass set and mean streak to finish plays. He’s worked downhill and pulled with intensity, generating movement in both aspects of blocking.

Phillips is only the second rookie offensive lineman to start in week one for the Ravens in the past decade (along with Ronnie Stanley). The Ravens coaching staff seems to be quite high on his work ethic and potential, which will allow him to get enough reps to show improvement after a rocky rookie season. Sports Info Solutions credited Phillips with 13 blown blocks on only 402 snaps. In comparison, Bradley Bozeman and Orlando Brown Jr. both only had 15, while each played over 900 snaps in 2020.

Phillips has flashed athleticism, length and a mean streak, but the consistency in assignment execution aren’t there. With a full offseason and training camp, as well as the confidence of the coaching staff, he could emerge as a viable option at left guard, or compete for the right tackle position if newcomer Alejandro Villanueva struggles throughout the first half of the season.

Brandon Stephens & Ar’Darius Washington— DB’s:

While Stephens and Washington are in different places in terms of positional familiarity, investment and size, they find themselves competing for playing time on the backend of Baltimore’s secondary. The Ravens third-round pick is a converted running back, who transferred from UCLA to play cornerback. Another former SMU Mustang, Stephens wasn’t projected by the media to be drafted ahead of Washington, who shockingly wasn’t one of the 256 players drafted in April. Washington, a two-year starter at TCU, racked up five interceptions in 2019 and earned Freshman All-American honors by the FWAA and was named the Big-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. Washington is fighting for a roster spot, while Stephens is fighting for playing time.

Stephens seems like DeShon Elliott’s direct backup, spending more time patrolling the middle of the field in MOFC coverages (cover-1 and cover-3) then walking down into the slot in certain man alignments or various late rotations. He’s had a quiet camp, showing the ability to make plays on the ball, while seeming to lose the occasional receiver when plays are extended. Watching his ability to tackle in space and fill gaps in the run game will be imperative in determining if he’s ready to rotate at safety when needed. He’s seen some first-team snaps in dime packages when the Ravens put him alongside DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark, particularly in two-minute drill defense.

Washington has worked his way into more playing time over the last week or so. He had an outstanding practice Monday, nabbing three pass breakups throughout team drills. He’s spent a fair amount of time in the slot, while working into more single and two-high reps as camp has progressed. He’s battled with James Proche regularly, a la ‘iron sharpening iron.’

Washington has also been asked to blitz out of the slot frequently, like teammate Tavon Young. Washington is built similarly to Young and possesses a similar assassin-like prowess to blow plays up before they start.

Watching Stephens, a neophyte at the position, and Washington, whose an undersized 5-foot-8 and reportedly under 185 pounds, react to situations in open space and filling the run, will be imperative in determining their immediate future.

Josh Oliver— TE:

From the way camp has gone, the Ravens can kiss their 2022 7th-round pick goodbye. The Ravens sent the pick to Jacksonville for Oliver, under the condition that he’s on their roster to begin the 2021 regular season. Oliver has done nothing but make that decision look wise so far. He’s the closest thing they’ve had to Mark Andrews, maybe even considering Hayden Hurst. From the first day of camp, Oliver found himself working in certain 12 personnel packages. Oliver has been used particularly in spread formations. He’s been utilized in short motions and made a living up the seams, displaying a monstrous catch radius along with an aggressive “my ball” attitude. There have been occasional drops, but he’s been a reliable and consistent target regardless of group or quarterback throughout camp.

The San Jose St. alumnus had a strong combine in 2019, where his closest comparisons athletically are familiar— Ed Dickson, Hayden Hurst and Eric Ebron had similar athletic measurements.

Josh Oliver combine results and RAS
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Hayden Hurst combine measurements and RAS
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Ed Dickson combine results and RAS
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Eric Ebron combine results and RAS
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All four measured between:

  • 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5.
  • 4.6-4.67s 40-yard-dash time.
  • 249-to-255 pounds.
  • 31.5 to 34-inch vertical jump.

Oliver’s biggest outlier is his hand size at nearly 11-inches, scoring in the 96th percentile of all tight-ends to be measured. His big mitts have been on display as he’s continued to shield the ball and rip it away from defenders in contested situations.

It feels like Oliver has already earned himself a roster spot, but at this point, dominating in the preseason will be reassuring considering that he’s only played in four NFL games and caught three passes over the last two seasons— he’s missed a significant amount of time due to injury.

Justin Madubuike— iDL:

“Mad-Dog-Boogie” fought off injury early last year and turned into a force when the Ravens desperately needed one late in the season. With Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams missing time due to injury and COVID-19, Madubuike turned out a string of strong performances.

Madubuike’s box score stats won’t do his play justice. He put guards into desperation, particularly against zone concepts. He possesses a unique frame paired with athleticism and a talented skill set. He trained with Aaron Donald in Pittsburgh this offseason and has been one of the most explosive players on the Ravens roster throughout training camp. His explosiveness off the ball has been a constant problem for offensive lineman throughout one-on-one’s and in team drills.

Watching Madubuike’s hype meet his play would would be a sight for sore eyes, as the Ravens have one of the oldest defensive lines in the NFL. Madubuike and fellow 2020 selection Broderick Washington will have an opportunity to earn more reps and prove to Ravens brass that they can carry the torch in the coming years. Washington has also flashed against the run in camp, and the Ravens need young defensive lineman to step up, or they could be forced to spend heavily at the position next offseason.

Chris Westry— CB:

Westry, like Oliver, has dealt with injuries that have prevented them from showcasing his skills. The towering 6-foot-4 cornerback has been a nuisance for Ravens quarterbacks and receivers when targeted. His combination of length and quick feet have allowed him to break on balls relentlessly. The former Kentucky Wildcat started 33 games in college, displaying a rare combination of length and quickness while struggling to diagnose route concepts at times.

He posted a 38-inch vertical at his pro day alongside a low 4.3s 40-time. He wasn’t able to stay healthy with the Cowboys, before being signed by the Ravens on a future’s contract in January. A cornerback with such strong developmental traits was a welcome sight into a room that consists of smart and technically sound press corners like Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith. Working with them under Chris Hewitt’s tutelage, Westry’s been a menace in press coverage this offseason, particularly overwhelming smaller, more finesse receivers.

If he can show consistency in assignment and communication, while playing with physicality in the run game and as a tackler, Westry has a very real shot to make the opening day roster in September.

Tylan Wallace— WR:

The former OKST Cowboy has been a steady force throughout camp, flashing strong body control and late adjustments tracking the ball. With Rashod Bateman out, Wallace has a chance to earn himself significant playing time early in the season. He’s worked more out of the slot than he did for the Cowboys, where he took 97% of his snaps as the right outside receiver. He’s flashed working back to the ball on broken plays, as well as making tough catches between the numbers in traffic. Wallace looks every bit of an ancillary contributor who could take on a larger role if he can prove as physically tough as he was in college after the catch. This is a prime opportunity for Wallace to assert himself in the rotation. He’s shown competitiveness as a blocker and seeks contact in all facets. Whether that will translate into NFL games is a key question.

Jaylon Ferguson— OLB:

“Sack Daddy” hasn’t seemed to make enough strides from his rookie season. He’s failed to add more finesse or technical prowess to his pass rush. He’s significantly leaner than he was as a rookie, and looks better in space. To prove he’s worthy of a roster spot, he needs to dominate as an edge setter and show that he provides value on special teams. Considering he looks leaner, he may be more disruptive when used in sub packages to match up with guards rather than tackles. He’s been disruptive against the Ravens tight ends in the run game, but it’s to be seen whether his ability to diagnose blocking concepts and execute have improved.

Ben Bredeson— OG/C:

The former Michigan Wolverine hasn’t had much game experience to this point, but he’s shown lightning quick hands and a bulldog like attitude despite his short arms and squatty stature. He’s struggled at times when lined up against the likes of Calais Campbell, which is understandable. Bredeson also hasn’t seemed in line for any first team reps, nor the competition at left guard. He creates a powerful anchor when he drives his hips and is able to get underneath of pass rushers. How much movement he can create in the run game might be the name of the game. When Bradley Bozeman missed time, Bredeson got some work in as a center, and he will likely see snapping duty at some point in preseason games. Ravens fans only saw a handful of snaps in 2020 and Bredeson will get a shot to prove that he can overcome his stature with technique and quickness.

Patrick Queen & Malik Harrison— iLB’s:

The duo will get reps to assert their growth from their rookie year. Queen struggled diagnosing three man route concepts and filling against man gap blocking schemes last year, but flashed awesome athleticism and savvy as a blitzer. Harrison has shown mighty block shedding ability and physicality, but can he prove himself an every down type of player in coverage?

Beyond those two, Kristian Welch, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka will be in a dog fight for the final linebacker spots alongside Queen, Harrison and L.J. Fort. Board has the inside track with a guaranteed contract just north of $1M, but Welch has been impressive coming downhill and worked his way onto the active roster late last season.

Odafe Oweh— OLB:

Oweh has been nothing short of a demon in open space and off the ball, but hasn’t shown much in the sense of a bullrush. He possesses rare speed in the open field as well as in pursuit, and seems to have taken quickly to spot dropping off the edge. All eyes will be on the first round pick after a strong camp that’s resulted in heaps of praise for someone who was seemingly mislabeled as a “project” ahead of the draft. The Ravens seem confident in his ability to set the edge and pursue, but can he be more than a one-trick pony as a pass rusher to start his career? He missed practice Wednesday, but returned Thursday. According to Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic, Oweh was triple teamed at one point in practice.

“Oweh easily beat left tackle Tyre Phillips to sack Jackson in one 11-on-11 session. The offense obviously didn’t want it to happen again, so later in practice, Oweh was triple teamed on one plan. He was blocked by both Villanueva and guard Patrick Mekari and then Dobbins also chipped him.”

Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley— QB’s:

Trace and Tyler will get to compete for the primary backup job behind Lamar Jackson. In Jackson’s absence, Huntley had a hot start but seemed to struggle getting the ball out quickly as time wore on, while McSorley has been more consistent yet less spectacular. Both are mobile, both like to take shots, and both have struggled to get the ball out in rhythm, particularly as the Ravens pass rush has utterly dominated a beat up offensive line group.

Ben Cleveland— OG:

Cleveland came to camp with a heaping pile of hype, but struggled in his pass sets. Seemingly inflexible in his stance, Cleveland received some intense words from offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris a few days into camp. Cleveland’s anchor seems capable of stopping a rhinoceros in their tracks, but when he has to move his feet, he’s opened himself up too much and showed poor foot speed/quickness. Cleveland is a Woolly mammoth in space, blocking out the sun and forcing defenders to consider their post-collision prospects. Minding his feet and staying balanced will go a long way in earning an eventual starting spot along the Ravens offensive line. He also had to leave practice Wednesday, and didn’t return on Thursday.

Binjimen Victor— WR:

Victor, J.K. Dobbins teammate from Ohio State, has had a nice camp. He’s a twitchy mover who can flash lightning quick adjustments to the ball. The receiver displays body control and length with a big catch radius, but possesses a thin frame and quick feet. He’s developed a nice rapport with Trace McSorley, who trusts the receiver to track the ball and make plays. Victor is certainly on the outside looking in, but showing up in the absence of several injured wide receivers would make a statement if he can perform in games over the next three weeks.