After a five-month wait, the Ravens are finally starting to get back to game speed.
Rookies and veterans will report Tuesday to the team facility in Owings Mills for the first of 10 days of voluntary organized team activities. No “live” contact will be allowed at the pad-free practices, but the Ravens will graduate from a walk-through pace to seven-on-seven, nine-on-nine and 11-on-11 drills. Wednesday’s practice will be the first of three open to local media over the next three weeks, offering the best look at the team since its 2021 season ended short of the playoffs.
Of course, it’s still unclear just how many of the Ravens’ most important players will be on hand. Some are recovering from injuries. Others prefer to train closer to home as they prepare for mandatory minicamp in mid-June. And then there’s quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose unique contract situation could prompt any number of outcomes. As OTAs get underway, he’s among the Ravens’ six most interesting people to follow.
QB Lamar Jackson
The Ravens undoubtedly want Jackson at OTAs, where he can work on his chemistry with a young receiving corps, help rookie center Tyler Linderbaum’s development in a more shotgun-heavy offense, meet the team’s other new faces and maybe answer a few questions about his occasionally hard-to-parse offseason.
But does Jackson want to be at a voluntary workout? And if he does, how many? Jackson showed up for OTAs last year, as almost all quarterbacks do, but the Ravens had already picked up the option on the fifth year of his contract. Now he’s down to the final year of that rookie deal, and there’s been no progress in negotiations for a record-breaking extension. Until Jackson says otherwise, all signs point to the Ravens placing the franchise tag on the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player after the coming season.
General manager Eric DeCosta said after the draft that the Ravens have gotten “great reports” on Jackson’s offseason workouts; he’s trained with private quarterback tutor Adam Dedeaux, whom he worked with last year, as well as a South Florida-based trainer. But if Jackson skips OTAs, as Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is reportedly expected to, the focus will remain on his contract situation and future in Baltimore, not how well-positioned he might be for a bounce-back year.
WR Rashod Bateman
The 2021 first-round pick’s reaction to seeing leading wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown traded away last month? “All respect due to him … but it was like, ‘It’s my time,’” Bateman told Marlon Humphrey on the cornerback’s team-produced show recently.
This is the offseason to prove it. DeCosta said last month that Bateman “was our first-round guy, and I think he’s going to show you why.” After a groin injury ended his preseason and delayed his NFL debut, he’s healthy again. He’s also a step ahead of the team’s returning wide receivers, along with James Proche II, having worked out with Jackson at throwing sessions this offseason.
As a rookie, Bateman had 46 catches for 515 yards and a touchdown in 12 games. Considering the team’s injury situation at cornerback, a standout performance at OTAs might not mean much for him or projected starter Devin Duvernay. But it’d be better than the alternative.
OLB Odafe Oweh
One of the NFL’s better rookie seasons ended on a down note last year. After posting five sacks, three forced fumbles and 15 quarterback hits in 15 games, Oweh missed Week 17 and Week 18 with a foot injury. The Ravens missed him, too, recording just two sacks total in season-ending losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.
With Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo recovering from torn Achilles tendons, and Justin Houston still unsigned, Oweh could enter training camp this summer as the team’s top available pass rusher. Coach John Harbaugh said in March that Oweh was “doing great” after offseason shoulder surgery and that his recovery “should be no problem for training camp.” If he ‘s healthy enough for OTAs, it ‘d be a boon not only for his his and the defense ‘s development his, but perhaps the offensive line ‘s as well.
S Kyle Hamilton
The first-round pick looked the part at rookie minicamp: long, lean, flying around the backfield. Now Hamilton will have to level up, as he goes from reading undrafted quarterbacks and defending undrafted wide receivers to taking on starting-level talents. He acknowledged earlier this month that the Ravens’ defense is “pretty different” from what Notre Dame ran, and there’s still a lot to learn. OTAs will throw even more lessons at him, from coverage shells to on-field communication.
Hamilton could benefit from having Chuck Clark around, but the veteran starting safety’s future in Baltimore is unclear. With Marcus Williams, another top safety, added to the secondary in free agency, Clark’s once-unquestioned role in the Ravens’ defense is set to shrink. If Clark is traded this offseason, Hamilton would have to pick up some of the slack.
P Jordan Stout
Inclement weather forced Stout inside for the lone rookie minicamp practice open to reporters, where he worked mainly on his holding. But with only a small chance of rain in Wednesday’s forecast, Stout can get back to doing what he couldn’t do earlier this month: crushing punts.
After Sam Koch’s retirement last week, Stout finds himself in a spotlight unusual for a punter. At least he seems like the type to make good first impressions. Earlier this month, Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz recalled executive vice president Ozzie Newsome telling him before a Senior Bowl practice, as they watched Stout “just banging balls,” that he “might be the best player on the field.” A couple of scouts told Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy that Stout’s pregame performances last season left them wowed.
The fourth-round pick averaged 46.5 yards per punt at Penn State, booted 12 touchbacks and, according to Pro Football Focus, led the country in average hang time (4.36 seconds per punt) last year. Stout will enter his first season in Baltimore with help — Koch has signed on as a special teams consultant — and high expectations.
Coach John Harbaugh
What will OTAs under Harbaugh look like after one of the most injury-marred seasons in recent NFL history? Definitely different. Harbaugh said in March that the Ravens “turned over every stone” after last year in search of a safer approach. Ravens players didn’t find that their first week of the offseason workout program was drastically different from those in previous years, but practices might be.
“We’ve changed a lot of what we’re doing,” Harbaugh said at the NFL owners’ meetings. “We’re going to approach OTAs differently. We’re going to approach training camp, some big-picture schedule differently in terms of the way we ramp and in terms of the way we time practices, how long we’re on the field and what we’re doing on the field and how we pace the rhythm of the practices — and even within the practices, what we do early and how we pace the rhythm of our practices. We think we have some really good ideas, and I’m excited about it.”