While defense dominated Monday’s practice according to reports, the highlight of the Baltimore Ravens training camp thus far has been how smoothly the offense has operated without their best player. Former league MVP Lamar Jackson tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time in less than a calendar year prior to the team’s first practice.
The Ravens had to turn to their reserves when they hit the field for the first time last Wednesday and have continued to do so every day since. Typically the battle for the backup quarterback job is one that doesn’t really get publicized much until the preseason starts. However, with Jackson out of commission, it has taken center stage during the early portion of training camp in Baltimore.
To the surprise of many outside the organization, both Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley have looked impressive over the last week are capitalizing on their extended opportunities in practice.
“I think they’ve taken advantage of those reps,” Harbaugh said last Wednesday. “They’ve practiced very well. There’s nothing like being there for reps and for reps with the ones for a quarterback. They’re doing a good job. We’ll see what they can make of it. It’ll be fun to watch.”
McSorley has been decisive and on target with pinpoint accuracy and Huntley has been aggressive in pushing the ball downfield. They both have been spreading the ball around pretty well, had strong showings at the open stadium practice, and have helped develop a passing game that the team vowed to expand on after finishing with the least passing yards per game.
“They’ve played the way they’ve played all through training camp,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “To take it now and transfer it to the stadium with the fans in there, to operate the offense the way they did, it’s a great step for them – that’s exactly right. The next step will be when the pads come on...and then after that into the [preseason] games.”
McSorley was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft and Huntley signed with the team as an undrafted free agent last year. Both players played meaningful snaps in 2020 while Jackson was out due to injury or his first bout with COVID.
Huntley took over the primary backup job after McSorely went down during the second Cleveland Browns’ game, saw the field in relief duty down the stretch, and played the entire fourth quarter of the divisional round loss to the Buffalo Bills. All of McSorley’s playing time came in the regular season when he nearly led the Ravens to a come-from-behind victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12 and set the table for the dramatic finish against the Browns in Week 14 on Monday Night Football.
“You never want to see a teammate get sick or go down for any reason, but whatever opportunities we do get, ‘Snoop’ [Tyler Huntley] and I, and even Kenji [Behar], trying to take advantage of them,” McSorley said Saturday.
The third-year pro said that their collective mindsets are focusing on controlling what they can control and maximizing the opportunities of the extra reps they are getting with the first-team unit while they can.
“Sometimes you don’t always get those reps,” said McSorley. “If you can get that opportunity to get in there and try to make the most out of it and really just use that time to build chemistry with these guys who we will be working with in the preseason.”
Huntley said that he was mad when he found out that Jackson would be out of commission for 10 days but is just as grateful for the extended looks in practice with the starters as McSorley.
“It’s just a good opportunity for us to get a couple more reps, just learn the different aspects of being out there with the first team and everything,” said Huntley.
The second-year pro believes that the areas where he’s made significant strides are in getting a better understanding of the playbook, elevating his knowledge of the offense overall, and “taking full control of it.” After having a completely virtual offseason program and no exhibition games as a rookie, he is glad that wasn’t the case this year.
”I feel like it’s a great thing because the spring prepared me well for the camp and preseason. I just feel like everybody plays better in a game, so it’s going to be good.”
Both Jackson and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman have talked about their desire to improve and become more efficient in the downfield passing in particular. It was clearly a focus of the entire quarterback room because both McSorley and Huntley have been cutting it loose in camp.
“It has been a point of emphasis for us,” said McSorley. “We have guys on the outside who can make those plays. We want to give those guys the opportunity to entertain [deep ball passes] any chance we get, something that [quarterbacks] Coach [James] Urban talks to us a lot about. Something that we are trying to build into our thought process that whenever we can get those shots, to be able to go one-on-one with the guy on the outside and go make a play.”
The Ravens have one of the best secondaries in the league and arguably the best cornerback duo in the league with perennial Pro Bowlers Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Both players have made their fair share of plays in camp thus far and have given up some big ones too albeit not in pads. Count Humphrey among the contingent on the team and within the organization that has like what he’s seen from next men up.
“I think that’s the NFL – when a guy has a hamstring, when a guy has something small and might have to miss a game here and there, and those guys have got to step up,” said Humphrey last Wednesday.
“I think Trace and ‘Snoop’ and [Kenji Bahar] all did really well. I couldn’t even tell who was throwing the ball a lot of times. I just remember seeing, looking up, trying to find the ball and it being right in the spot where it was supposed to be.”
The Ravens will strap on the pads this week so we’ll see if the offense can continue that momentum when more contact is allowed. Hopefully, they can then carry it over to the preseason which doesn’t start for them until next weekend when the New Orleans Saints come to town.