The Baltimore Ravens 2019 rookie class began to report to training camp at the Under Armor Performance Center in Owings Mills yesterday as the journey to Super Bowl LIV in Miami begins.
Third-round pick Miles Boykin inked his rookie contract yesterday, meaning that the entire 2019 draft class is under contract as preparation for the 2019 season begins. The rest of the team will report to training camp next Wednesday, July 24 with the first full practice slated for Thursday the 25th.
The Ravens look to find their way to back-to-back playoff appearances and if everything goes well, back-to-back division titles. Gone are most of the mainstays of the last era of Ravens football in Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and CJ Mosley But excitement remains in Charm City for the return of football as the Orioles trudge through their rebuild.
Here are some of the top storylines to watch throughout Ravens training camp and preseason as we sit just 53 days from the season opener in Miami on September 8.
1) How does Lamar Jackson grasp the new offense and what improvements do we see?
The Ravens have a new offense. It is imperative for Jackson to pick it up quickly and focus on the two most glaring weaknesses in his game: ball security and throw accuracy. Ball security is by far the more important of the two. There needs to be improvement in this area and many folks have said that a fair share of the 15 fumbles from last season were related to chemistry issues (botched handoffs, read option errors, bad snaps). With more reps, these things should diminish.
My response is to prove it. Jackson has had issues fumbling the ball his entire career, including his college days. Flacco was a nightmare with fumbles in his first few years in the league, so corrections can be made.
In terms of accuracy, the Ravens don’t need Jackson to be Drew Brees. They need him to get to at least complete 60% of his passes this year. To jump from 58.2% is certainly achievable. I want to see him make a wider variety of throws on a more consistent basis.
I am not asking Jackson to win the league MVP. But he needs to show improvement if the Ravens want to be back-to-back AFC North champions.
2) When do we see Hollywood Brown?
The Ravens made Marquise “Hollywood” Brown their 25th-overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. The wideout out of Oklahoma is coming off of a Lisfranc injury that required surgery. Coach John Harbaugh has been optimistic that Brown will be ready for the start of training camp but it’s not a lock that we’ll see Hollywood in pads next Thursday.
If he isn’t ready, it’s not the end of the world. But the sooner the diminutive speedster can make it on the field, the better it bodes for the overall outlook of his rookie season. The Ravens lack speed in the receiving game and are relying on Brown to play a huge role in their offense. He can take the top off a defense and is a nightmare to defend with the ball in his hands.
Rookie pass-catchers need reps to get accustomed to NFL offense and game speed. Hopefully Brown is ready for the start of camp, but this will be one of the top stories until he is on the field and his health will be paramount throughout training camp.
3) Who seizes the day on the offensive line?
The Ravens have three studs on the offensive line. Maybe it is early to put Orlando Brown Jr. in that category but humor me there. Even soon-to-be 35-year-old Marshal Yanda is an elite right guard. Ronnie Stanley is beginning to earn some national clout as one of the NFL’s best young left tackles.
Center and right guard are up in the air right now. Matt Skura returns to what I would expect to be a battle with Bradley Bozeman for the starting center spot. Despite coming on late last season, Skura was rated the 23rd center per Pro Football Focus, is undersized, and a better fit at guard. Bozeman, the 2018 sixth-round-pick out of Alabama, is a natural center and could win the job.
Left guard is the real position of uncertainty. Alex Lewis can’t seem to do anything consistently from staying on the field to his level of play. James Hurst is a super back-up but a stinker starter. The Ravens drafted Ben Powers in the fourth round out of Oklahoma. Maybe he wrestles the job away throughout the preseason. Maybe Jermaine Eluemunor sneaks into the discussion here as well. His first two seasons with the Ravens left a lot to be desired but he got the bulk of the starting reps in minicamp and impressed.
The Ravens need two guys to step up here to solidify their offensive line. The sooner someone stands out and establishes themselves, the better. The Ravens can’t afford to play musical chairs at a position that thrives on consistency, chemistry, and continuity, especially after the offensive line’s lackluster outing in the Wild Card loss to the Chargers.
4) Earl Thomas’ health
There’s no doubt that the largest free agent acquisition for the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason was All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. The Ravens brought in Thomas to replace the departed Eric Weddle. Thomas gives Baltimore their first true “center fielder” type safety since soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed.
Thomas has missed 19 games in the last three seasons, including 12 weeks last year with a broken leg. It’s a fluke injury and his other injuries have been fluky too, but the Ravens need Thomas on the field and they need him to be effective.
Thomas is arguably the best safety in football when he is healthy but another thing to monitor is that Thomas is on the wrong side of 30. The Ravens need to be careful with Thomas this preseason and ensure he is ready to be the leader of what might be the best secondary in the NFL.
5) Hayden Hurst’s impact
Last year the Ravens had a rookie tight end break the team record for receiving yards set by a first-year tight end. However, it wasn’t 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst leading the charge. Instead, third-rounder Mark Andrews, who plays through Type 1 diabetes, tallied 34 catches for 552 yards and three touchdowns.
Hurst suffered a stress fracture in his foot early in training camp and never seemed to get on track, finishing with just 13 receptions, 163 yards and a touchdown. But Hurst has ideal size for a tight end at 6’4″, 245 pounds, and Andrews was able to build a nice chemistry withJackson down the stretch before reaching the postseason.
The hope for the Ravens is that with a healthy camp, Hurst could team with Andrews to become one the NFL’s best tight end duos.
6) Y’all got any of them pass rushers?
Suggs and Za’Darius Smith are out the door and they’re taking their 15.5 sacks with them.
Most of the added workload will need to be picked up by emerging pass rusher Matt Judon, who looks to build on his 2018 seven sack campaign. But the rest of the slack will need to be picked up by veteran additions Shane Ray and Pernell McPhee, and returnees Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser.
In the last two seasons those four players have combined for 11.5 sacks. For those of you new to football, that ain’t good.
Someone needs to step up quickly to Judon carry the load here because I’m tired of hearing Jadeveon Clowney rumors.
Image Credit: Ron Matz