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Ravens roundtable: Breaking down the stars and the surprises of OTAs and minicamp

The Ravens’ summer break is finally here.

With offseason workouts, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp behind them, the Ravens scattered last week for a monthlong vacation. Players will report to Owings Mills for training camp in late July and kick off their 2022 season Sept. 11.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson dominated the headlines all offseason, and that trend might very well continue during the summer hiatus. But there was plenty more to unpack from the team’s workouts. Here’s what stood out to Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker, Jonas Shaffer and Ryan McFadden from OTAs and minicamp.

What’s your biggest takeaway from the Ravens’ OTAs and minicamp?

Childs Walker: However many days, weeks or months we spend trying to make sense of Jackson’s long-term plans, his contract situation is unlikely to harm the Ravens’ prospects for 2022. The Ravens we heard from over the last month said they were sold on Jackson’s commitment to the team and on his ability to lead it. Their belief in the franchise quarterback still seems genuine, not strained. When Jackson hit the field for minicamp, he did not look like a player who had wasted his spring. His arm was lively, his demeanor on the field businesslike, and he carried a few extra pounds of muscle for good measure. Although Jackson said his extension is a subject of ongoing discussions, he gave every indication he’s ready to play well in his fifth season.

Jonas Shaffer: The passing offense sure looks a lot more dynamic when Jackson’s the one leading it. In OTAs, when backup Tyler Huntley had to practice against the first-team defense, his drop-backs tended to feel risk-averse. There were some nice downfield completions, but more often, he was finding a running back in the flat or a wide receiver short of the first-down marker. With Jackson, it was like the passing offense had upgraded from standard definition to 4K. He threaded throws over the middle, looked for deep shots and made magic in scramble situations. Receivers who were quiet during OTAs — Tylan Wallace, Isaiah Likely — suddenly sprang to life in minicamp.

Ryan McFadden: Tight end Nick Boyle looked like a completely new guy after being limited to five games last season, when he was recovering from a knee injury he suffered in 2020. Coach John Harbaugh even mentioned how renewed Boyle looked, saying the veteran tight looks leaner and quicker. Boyle is one of the best blocking tight ends in football when healthy. Having him at full strength will be key this upcoming season, with the Ravens wanting as much protection for Jackson as possible.

Which player’s development (or lack thereof) got your attention since last season?

Walker: Development might not be the right word for a veteran such as Boyle, but he looked like a different guy after five months of conditioning and rehabilitating a left knee that was never right in 2021. It was painful to watch Boyle, who at his best flew around with such abandon, limp through practices with a large brace encumbering him. But he was back to moving fluidly at OTAs and minicamp, with a leaner frame and palpable optimism for 2022. Boyle was an essential blocker for the Ravens, and his absence was felt in both the running game and pass protection. He will make Jackson’s life more comfortable if he’s the Boyle of old.

Shaffer: Given the Ravens’ injuries at outside linebacker, Jaylon Ferguson had to do something in minicamp. He couldn’t be invisible again, not as he approaches his fourth and possibly final training camp in Baltimore. Three months from now, maybe we’ll look back at these offseason workouts as the launch pad for a productive 2022. Ferguson was slimmer and savvier, timing the snap a few times to create pressure from the edge on speed rushes. He still has to prove that his leaner physique can translate in pads. When Ferguson has won as a pass rusher — and it hasn’t been often, with just 4 1/2 sacks in three seasons — it’s usually been with his power. If he can bother offensive tackles with his strength and threaten them with a new gear, he could have a solid 2022.

McFadden: Second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes caught my attention. Hayes’ rookie campaign was limited to one game as an ankle injury and a knee procedure sidelined him, but he looked really impressive during OTAs and training camp. Hayes was active on the field, bursting off the line of scrimmage to apply pressure on the quarterback. Hayes is fully healthy, and that’s all the more important given the injuries at the position. Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo are recovering from Achilles tendon injuries, while Odafe Oweh is still working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. I’m looking forward to seeing what Hayes will do once the pads come on.

Which Ravens newcomer impressed you most?

Walker: Safety Marcus Williams did not see a full load of reps during minicamp, and it’s difficult to judge linemen in a minimal contact setting, so first-round pick Kyle Hamilton takes the prize here. Hamilton was not perfect, but he draws your eye with his giant frame and gift for covering ground without looking hurried. Coaches praised him for never making the same mistake twice, and teammates are treating him like a guy who’s going to matter for a long time. We’ll see whether the Ravens trade Chuck Clark or cling to their deep safety rotation, but one way or another, they’re going to want Hamilton on the field right away.

Shaffer: Hamilton’s the easy answer here, and it’s exciting to consider that he might be even better when the hitting picks up. On offense, running back Tyler Badie stood out throughout OTAs and minicamp. The sixth-round pick was a popular target in the Ravens’ passing game, helping out quarterbacks looking for him on early reads or finding him on check-downs. Badie’s most impressive highlight might’ve come Thursday, when he beat inside linebacker Patrick Queen to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown catch in a red-zone drill. Unofficially, he had just one drop in team drills, a short-range dump-off pass that glanced off his hands as the defense hollered in delight. Asked Thursday about veteran running back Mike Davis, Harbaugh couldn’t help but praise Badie, calling him “a receiving running back.”

McFadden: Badie impressed me the most during the team’s offseason practices. He was catching basically every pass thrown to him in the backfield, while showing his ability to evade defenders. Badie should provide good depth at running back as J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards recover from ACL injuries.

What player or position are you hoping to see more from?

Walker: We seem to say this every summer, but no one has seized the left guard job. Fans might want Ben Cleveland to be the answer, but he needs to improve his bend and mobility, not to mention stay healthy. Tyre Phillips might be the man if he gets a full year to focus on the position. Or perhaps Ben Powers will again find a way to be the one left standing. The Ravens seem set at three offensive line spots — four if left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s ankle is sound. Can Cleveland, Phillips or Powers step up to create the full-unit stability the team enjoyed in 2019?

Shaffer: Harbaugh acknowledged Thursday that offensive tackle Daniel Faalele is “working his way into kind of NFL-type conditioning”; the fourth-round pick from Minnesota struggled throughout minicamp with the midday heat, needing frequent water breaks and considerable time off his feet. Faalele said during rookie minicamp that his optimal playing weight is around 375 pounds, down from the 384 he weighed at the NFL scouting combine. Harbaugh called Faalele’s physique “good weight” and said he was “certain” that the rookie would learn how to handle NFL-level defenders. It’s possible Faalele’s conditioning affected his technique, which was lacking at times. But despite his massive wingspan, Faalele struggled to keep edge rushers from winning the battle for leverage in pass protection.

McFadden: I hope to see wide receiver Rashod Bateman continue to develop his chemistry with Jackson. During the open OTA practices, Bateman was occasionally dropping passes. But when Jackson showed up for minicamp, Bateman looked much better. The 2021 first-round pick is expected to become the Ravens’ top receiving target after the team traded Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. There’s been no indication that the Ravens will acquire a veteran wideout either, whether in free agency or through a trade.

Last season, Bateman’s opportunities to develop his chemistry with Jackson were limited. He suffered a groin injury during training camp, which caused him to miss the first five games of the season. Then Jackson missed the final four games of the season because of an ankle injury. During minicamp, however, Jackson and Bateman flashed what this quarterback-receiver duo could become.

Which is the biggest deal: Lamar Jackson’s absence from OTAs, his strong showing at minicamp or his vague remarks about contract talks?

Walker: Throw OTAs out; that’s already a dead issue. The uncertainty around his contract is certainly the biggest deal long term, because the Ravens have built everything around Jackson. But it’s not as if he seems at odds with the franchise or uncommitted to winning in Baltimore. He’s just difficult to read, much as he is difficult to tackle on the field. Jackson showed up, ready to perform, when he needed to. Unlike his words, his performance required no interpretation. If we’re talking 2022, that’s what matters.

Shaffer: The NFL’s media machine demands Lamar Jackson content, and in his first news conference in five-plus months, he seemed happy to oblige. Will Jackson play in Week 1 without a long-term deal? Will he show up for training camp? That’s a conversation, he said over and over, cracking a smile along the way. With only a handful of highlights from Jackson’s strong minicamp in circulation, his presser will resonate more intensely this summer. But considering everything else Jackson said Thursday — his plans to practice with Ravens receivers in South Florida, his rejection of the narrative that he’s at greater risk because of his playing style — it’s hard to see him stepping away for contractual reasons.

McFadden: I don’t view Jackson’s absence from OTAs to be as problematic as most people made it seem, and his vague remarks about his contract situation don’t come as a big surprise. But unfortunately for Jackson, he will continue to be hammered with questions regarding his future in Baltimore, as his contract is a big deal.

Jackson has a chance to become one of the highest-paid players in the league, and he shouldn’t waste any time in getting a deal done. Jackson deserves the money; he is the face of the franchise and one of the best players in football. There are not a lot of players in the league who impact the game the way Jackson does, and after seeing how the Ravens look when he is not on the field, it would be wise to secure him for the long term.

What training camp battle are you most looking forward to?

Walker: Who will step forward as the No. 2 option at wide receiver? We assume Bateman will be Jackson’s top target, along with tight end Mark Andrews, and that perception was reinforced during minicamp. But who else will fill the void left by the Brown trade? Of all the candidates, Devin Duvernay was the most targeted in 2021. James Proche II has the best hands. Wallace didn’t play much as a rookie but was regarded as an excellent draft value. And of course, the Ravens could still bring in a veteran, a la Sammy Watkins last year. We know fans will have their eyes on this competition, and it’s about as wide open as possible.

Shaffer: I don’t know if this qualifies as a battle, but there’s definitely uncertainty over who will wear the green dot as the Ravens’ defensive signal-caller this season. Clark has the advantage of experience, but he probably won’t be on the field for every defensive snap, as he was last season. Same goes for Josh Bynes and Queen, who don’t project as every-down linebackers this year. Hamilton could start in Week 1, but pass game coordinator and secondary coach Chris Hewitt said Wednesday that green dot responsibilities are unlikely this year.

That perhaps leaves Williams as the favorite for the job. This is his first season in Baltimore, but in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s new system, even the returning Ravens might not have too much of a head start. There’s a reason the Ravens are paying Williams $14 million annually.

McFadden: After the Ravens drafted Hamilton in the first round, I’ve been intrigued by how the safety group will unfold. Harbaugh said during rookie minicamp that he viewed Clark as a starter on the team, but there’s a lot of time between now and Week 1 to determine his role or whether he even remains on the team. Hamilton looked impressive during OTAs and minicamp, and will obviously be in the mix to be a Week 1 starter. The Ravens also have Williams, Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone and Tony Jefferson II, who intercepted two passes from Jackson during the first day of minicamp.

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