Friday, May 30, 2014
Observations at Ravens' offseason practice
By Jamison Hensley
The Baltimore Ravens opened their first full-team offseason practice to the media on Thursday. Here are some thoughts I jotted down in my notebook:
Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was the most impressive player on the field. There is no contact in offseason practices, but Osemele jumped out because he showed intensity in every drill. Even coach John Harbaugh pointed out how Osemele was running from drill to drill. After missing the last nine games with a back injury, Osemele seemed like he was letting everyone know that he's at full strength. The biggest question is whether he will line up at left guard or right tackle.
Ray Rice was noticeably slimmer and appeared to have a good burst when hitting the holes. But the running back who drew the most attention was Justin Forsett. The veteran journeyman is extremely small, but extremely fast. He displayed good hands in catching passes out of the backfield and turned upfield in a hurry. Forsett took most of the reps with the first team, although no one should read too much into that. This could easily have been a message to Rice and Lorenzo Taliaferro, both of whom were arrested this offseason.
Arthur Brown, a second-round pick from a year ago, will make plays on his speed alone. The Ravens have also been happy with how he's been picking up the defense better than last season. The biggest knock on him is his size. He just hasn't gotten that much bigger from last year. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, the team's first-round pick, ran with the second team. He will likely take over the starting job some time in training camp. But you can envision Mosley and Brown playing alongside each other in the future.
The biggest surprise was Ryan Jensen taking reps at offensive tackle. A sixth-round pick from a year ago, Jensen was a backup guard and center for the team last season. To his credit, he didn't look out of place when he lined up at right tackle. Jensen is considered a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo, and the Ravens obviously like his potential by keeping him on the 53-man roster last season even when he was unavailable to play early in the year because of a broken foot. Having him compete against Rick Wagner for the right tackle job could be the fastest way of getting Jensen on the field. It might also be an indication of how much the Ravens want to keep Osemele at left guard.
Wide receiver Steve Smith will undoubtedly help the Ravens convert more third downs this season. He will also be a big help when he's not lining up. In between drills, Smith worked with Marlon Brown and showed him how to run some routes better. That experienced presence will be a strong influence on what is still a young wide receiver group.
Tight end Dennis Pitta looks like the Dennis Pitta everyone remembers from the 2012 season. It was admirable that he came back to play the final four games last season after having hip surgery. He just wasn't the same. On Thursday, he was pulling away from defenders and even made a sliding catch in the end zone on a low Joe Flacco throw. That should alleviate any concerns about the hip. Owen Daniels, the other tight end, is also coming off a broken leg from last season, but didn't stand out as much. He didn't get much separation.
The new coaches have introduced new drills. Wide receivers coach Bobby Engram is using what looks like big rubber bands. Players put the them around their waists and run forward while a teammate holds the band. It's supposed to create resistance. The Ravens' quarterbacks are focusing more on ball security. As they drop back, an assistant coach is hitting the passer's hands with a blocking pad.
It was a good move for Harbaugh to keep his players practicing outside despite the constant rain and the temperature dipping to 50-some degrees. He could have easily moved the team to the warmer and drier field house. Instead, he chose to stick it out on what he described as an "AFC North kind of a day."