In a busy Ravens offseason that included Lamar Jackson’s trade request and the possible extension of the contractTHE adding wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and decline of linebacker Patrick Queen’s fifth-year optionin other news, Wednesday marked the first time the team opened practice to the media.
While several high-profile players were not in attendance at the voluntary “football school” — most notably Jackson — it provided an opportunity to see offensive, defensive and special teams players on the field for the first time since the offseason began. Rookie minicamp wrapped up over the weekend, so there were no first-year players in attendance, but there was plenty of intrigue among the group that arrived in Owings Mills. Here are some observations:
Monken takes over
The biggest change to the coaching staff was the addition of offensive coordinator Todd Monken. He replaced Greg Roman, who resigned in January amid player frustration and fan criticism for what turned into a pedestrian offense.
The difference in approach between the two is evident, with Monken, who previously served as the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and University of Georgia, taking a hands-on and vocal role with the receivers and the rest of the offense on Wednesday.
“Just put it in our system,” he said of the message he was trying to get across to the players. “It’s always fun to get back with the players. That’s what you do. As much as you love getting together and putting together your plan and your playbook and what you want to do ahead of time, there’s nothing like having players around. … We’re excited about the guys that are here and the setup and we’re working on it.”
We wonder if that was a message to Jackson, who signed his five-year, $260 million extension with the Ravens six days ago but has yet to participate in any of the team’s voluntary offseason programs . Overall, though, Monken has been pleased with what he’s seen and looks forward to building the numbers to be a dynamic and potentially explosive offense.
“I’m excited to get started, but there’s only one ball,” he said.
Missing pieces in attack
That “one ball” was enough Wednesday with so many of the Ravens’ best offensive players absent. Among the team’s top three running backs, only Justice Hill was there, without JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Neither Beckham nor fellow wide receiver Rashod Bateman was. Wideouts James Proche II and Shemar Bridges attended but did not participate, at least during media viewings.
With Jackson out, backup quarterbacks Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown handled the passing duties. A couple of throws to Isaiah Likely weren’t exactly on the sidelines, and the sophomore tight end didn’t look thrilled, though Huntley connected with third-year tight end Charlie Kolar on a 15-yard play pass up the middle. .
It’s only May, though, and the Ravens’ first practice of organized team activities isn’t for another 12 days.
Speaking of receivers, special teams coordinator Chris Horton offered a few perspective on rookie Zay Flowersthat could be used to return punts, something he practiced during rookie minicamp and did a bit at Boston College.
“I think a lot of the same things you’ve seen from him on offense — catching the football, with the ball in his hands, running after the catch — all those skills translate to the punt return game,” Horton said. Wednesday. “But more importantly, guys, you hear me say this every year: It’s about catching the ball first. And so, he had some flashbacks to college; it was good to see the guys on the strip. And we’re just going to focus on our fundamentals and make sure that when we get it out there, that – you know what – it provides football first. But he did a great job in rookie minicamp with it. It was easy for him.”
Horton also praised rookie inside linebacker Trenton Simpson, a third-round pick who should also see time on special teams.
“When I had the privilege of evaluating that guy as a special crew, it was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “That guy has the traits—those Raven traits—that we’re looking for; he was tough, he was fast, he was physical. He loved playing football and his energy was off the charts. That’s the type of player we’ve had in this building, so I really think that guy is going to do some good things for us this year.”
New coach on staff
on defense, outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith is also new to the staff. Smith, who played defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons from 1992 to 1999 and the Carolina Panthers in 2000, spent part of Wednesday’s practice working drills with Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo, with Oweh at one point running a move beautiful thorn. This will be Ojabo’s first full offseason with the Ravens after tearing his Achilles tendon at the pro day last March and not practicing until October.
The Ravens hope Smith, who has 58 1/2 career sacks and has more than 20 years of coaching experience, including as the defensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans in 2010, can have a significant impact on the two young people. rushers, both of whom coach John Harbaugh called “critically important” earlier this offseason.
With Justin Houston (team-leading 9 1/2 sacks last season) a free agent and Calais Campbell (5 1/2 sacks) now on the Falcons, the Ravens will have to replace nearly a third of their 48 sack- from last season. Both Oweh and Ojabo looked mostly smooth and quick Wednesday, including on their first step after the snap.
Other attendance notes
Several offensive linemen were on hand, including starting center Tyler Linderbaum and reserves Patrick Mekari, Ben Cleveland, John Simpson and Daniel Faalele, although starting tackles Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses did not appear to be present.
On the defensive front, linebackers Jeremiah Moon, Josh Ross, Del’Shawn Phillips and Kristian Welch, and linebackers Michael Pierce, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and Brent Urban were among those noticed. Meanwhile, cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Jalyn Armour-Davis and safety Geno Stone, who joined Brandon Stephens at the deep safety spot during drills, were among the defensive backs in attendance.