By the end of voluntary practice Wednesday, the situation with the Ravens’ tight ends had become more complex. It’s a good problem to have when Greg Roman is your offensive coordinator.
On a day when the Ravens’ passing game was downright awful and more defensive players had touches than receivers because of knocked down passes, rookie tight end Charlie Kolar had two exceptional catches over the middle. On both receptions, he had to reach up and haul in overthrown passes, which forced him to get every inch out of his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame.
According to coach John Harbaugh, Kolar, a fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa State, had two similar catches the day before. Being a downfield threat is one of the reasons the Ravens selected Kolar. They wanted another tight end to complement starter Mark Andrews, and they might have found one.
The problem right now is that Kolar hasn’t shown he is a good blocker, something Andrews also struggled with as a rookie four years ago. Isaiah Likely, another rookie tight end selected in the fourth round out of Coastal Carolina, is a better blocker than Kolar, but the Ravens might have too many at the position with the possible return of Nick Boyle, who has struggled to get on the field the past two seasons while recovering from a knee injury.
Harbaugh says Boyle is lighter and quicker, but his forte is blocking in the Ravens’ run-heavy scheme. Training camp doesn’t start until late July, so the Ravens have plenty of time to figure out an arrangement.
“I expect a lot of production from those guys,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot of depth. It’s going to be interesting. They’ll function as receivers in one sense or another a lot of times, too. So, they’re good receiving tight ends, they’re blocking. I’m excited to see them when the pads come on. They’ve looked good so far, all of them.”
Justin Madubuike stands out
When you watch the defensive line hit in sled work, third-year defensive tackle Justin Madubuike stands out because he might be the fastest and most explosive off the snap.
Madubuike has done a lot of things well in his first two seasons — including losing weight. He has always been quick and has been one of the few linemen who can penetrate and disrupt running plays. Madubuike started 11 of 15 games last season and finished with 36 tackles and a pair of sacks.
This could be the breakout season for the 2020 third-round pick out of Texas A&M. He batted down three passes Wednesday.
“Really expect him to take off, he and I talked about it,” Harbaugh said. “We expect him to take it to another level. That’s what he has practiced to do. I think he wants to be more consistent against the run, even though he played the run well last year. But he wants to start disrupting passes, a few batted balls, a few sacks. He is very determined. He looks good.”
Second-year pass rushers
The Ravens need quality pass rushers, so there has to be a focus on young outside linebackers like Daelin Hayes and Odafe Oweh, both second-year players.
Oweh, a 2021 first-round pick out of Penn State, started two of 15 games as a rookie and was second on the team with five sacks. A foot injury caused him to miss playing time at the end of last season and an apparent shoulder surgery has slowed him throughout the three voluntary practices open to the media.
But Oweh is never still on the sideline. Even when he is waiting for his next rotation in drills, he is working on something, whether it’s hand fighting or some pass-rushing moves. You can’t question his desire to get better.
Hayes, a 2021 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, missed most of last season with ankle and knee injuries. But he is noticeably thicker in his bottom half and seems to play with more power.
The Ravens need them to stay healthy because both have a lot of potential.
The Ravens had three new faces on the offensive line that weren’t in attendance a week ago.
Both second-year guard Ben Cleveland and offensive tackles Ja’Wuan James and Daniel Faalele participated in practice, and Harbaugh said tackle Morgan Moses, one of their key free-agent signings, practiced Tuesday.
Both Cleveland and the rookie Faalele will struggle in pass protection. Faalele, the fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, looked out of shape and winded during the 11-on-11 team periods. James, coming off a torn Achilles tendon, ran well even though there was very little physical contact and he didn’t have to push or move an opponent off the ball.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey has been impressive.
After he signed a five-year, $97.5 million contract extension in October 2020, Humphrey had a subpar 2021 season before tearing his right pectoral and missing the final five games.
He could have skipped the three recent minicamps but has shown up and worked very hard. That is a sign of good faith when a player does those kind of things.
Are you listening, Lamar Jackson?
Harbaugh, though, said he expects his star quarterback to be at the team’s mandatory minicamp next week.
Consistency is key
Second-year receiver Rashod Bateman dropped an easy pass over the middle early in practice but made up for it with several outstanding catches later on. The key for Bateman will be consistency.
Two young receivers who have been impressive are rookie free agents Devon Williams out of Oregon and Makai Polk from Mississippi State.
Timing, though, has to be worked out between the receivers and quarterbacks. The Ravens have a lot of work to do.