Marcus Williams, the Ravens’ biggest free agent, was on the practice field Wednesday after showing up for team activities earlier in the week. Veteran Chuck Clark was also there despite lingering questions about his future in Baltimore. And of course, rookie first choice Kyle Hamilton was also participating.
Add veteran Tony Jefferson, Brandon Stephens and Geno Stone and Ravens first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald were able to take a look Wednesday at the organization’s crop of safeties. However, if you were expecting him to look into how he plans to use this group, you’re going to have to wait a bit.
“It’s too early to tell,” Macdonald said after practice Wednesday. “We have so many great elements and the way we try to teach the system is so conceptual. We really don’t ask them to play positions per se all the time. The guys are expected to learn what this play call entails.
As he works to set up his defense, Macdonald has asked his players to focus less on their specific responsibility and more on what each player needs to do for a successful play. He took the same approach to evaluating the team’s defensive personnel, opting not to lock certain players into specific roles so early.
“Right now to say where someone is going to be, given a certain situation, is probably way too early. It will honestly change depending on the situation and depending on the game plan,” Macdonald said. as coaches, is finding the 11 best guys in a given situation and being able to get them out so they can go play. I think that’s why we try to teach it the way we do.
Macdonald drew a parallel to last season when he was defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan. He said the Wolverines had seven outside linebackers the coaching staff felt deserved to play. The key was to find ways to involve everyone.
That could be a challenge for Macdonald and his staff this season, especially when it comes to finishing high school. For now, however, guys like Hamilton and Williams are focused on a new defense.
Macdonald “teaches good defense and he places it in a way that we can learn it quickly, so we can come here and practice and try to put it together,” Williams said. “Right now it’s about dissecting the defense, learning what you have to do and what we have to do. We don’t just play one position. We play every position. He says it like that for us, so we know everything.
Ironically, Williams said he relies in part on Clark, the three-year-old starter and defensive signalman for the Baltimore defense. The signing of Williams and the drafting of Hamilton led to much discussion that Clark’s days with the Ravens could be numbered. However, Clark doesn’t act like a player with one foot out. He reported to volunteer OTAs and was engaged throughout, even helping Williams and Hamilton learn defense.
“Chuck is definitely a leader,” Williams said. “He comes here every day ready to work. Every time I’m there he helps me in every way he can. I ask a lot of questions.”
Now let’s move on to observations and thoughts from Wednesday’s practice, the second of three OTAs open to the media.
• The Ravens had 17 players not in practice, one less than last week. Those 17 included quarterback Lamar Jackson; running backs JK Dobbins (knee), Gus Edwards (knee) and Ricky Person; offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley (ankle), Morgan Moses, Ja’Wuan James and Ben Cleveland; outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (Achilles) and David Ojabo (Achilles); defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe (hip) and Michael Pierce; and defensive backs Marcus Peters (knee), Kyle Fuller, Ar’Darius Washington and Iman Marshall.
• Dobbins and Peters, who are continuing their rehabilitation programs after suffering serious knee injuries before the start of last season, both spent time watching training. Peters, as usual, was very vocal on the sideline, cheering on his teammates and even tackling wide receiver Rashod Bateman at one point after a fall. Dobbins also put on a helmet later in practice and went to catch balls from the JUGS machine.
• The three players who took part in Wednesday’s practice after not being on the court last week were Williams, tight end Nick Boyle and outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson. Ferguson, who appears to be recovering from a minor injury, has mostly participated in individual exercises and has run a lot on his own. Ferguson looks considerably leaner than in previous seasons with the Ravens.
• The passing game, which really struggled in open practice last week, improved on Wednesday. Operating the starting offense with Jackson opting to stay away from the team facility, Tyler Huntley was able to connect on a few more plays on the court. The offensive highlight was Huntley teaming up with Bateman for a 45-yard touchdown pass. Bateman got behind Kevon Seymour and Williams and Huntley made a good pitch.
• There were also far fewer drops on Wednesday, although undrafted rookie Trevon Clark had a bad one. Brett Hundley shrugged and hit Makai Polk in midfield for a big win on the very next play.
• Polk wasn’t the only undrafted rookie receiver to make a play. Shemar Bridges beat Damarion Williams for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. On the next play, Raleigh Webb broke free deep in the end zone. Bridges had a notable drive, beating veteran corner Marlon Humphrey on a late session play.
• There were a few circus takes. It appeared rookie running back Tyler Badie would be most impressive when he caught a wide throw from Hundley while on his back. The game didn’t win much, but it was still a nice adjustment from Badie. His effort was eclipsed later when 6-foot-3, 300-pound fullback Patrick Ricard went high to make a one-handed grab of a short pass. Ricard immediately headed upfield as some of the defensive players booed and aahed.
• Badie, Missouri’s sixth-round pick, continues to shine. He made several catches out of the backfield and even broke free for a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman also noted some of the skipped cuts Badie made on interior runs. Its explosiveness was definitely on display in the first two weeks of OTA.
• Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely also took a step forward this week. The former Coastal Carolina standout was heavily involved in the passing game, making several plays. On one, he caught Jefferson, who got on an official because he believed Likely got away with a push on the receiving end.
• His team-mate Josh Oliver also had a productive afternoon. Oliver passed Malik Harrison in the seam and carried a Huntley touchdown pass. Later, Oliver made a good fit to make a hard grab in a red zone drill.
• The only interception of the day was rookie corner Jalyn Armour-Davis, who caught a high deflection after Binjimen Victor couldn’t catch an Anthony Brown shot well behind him.
• Among the things you don’t see too often: Justin Tucker has missed consecutive field goal attempts from under 50 yards. No, you don’t have to worry.
• Ravens coach John Harbaugh often talks about making sure his players understand how to train. Humphrey has been around long enough to know what his head coach expects and it showed in the 11-on-11 opener. Huntley threw a pass to his tight end, Mark Andrews, who made the catch between Humphrey and Clark. Humphrey could have made a play on the ball, but he wisely peeled off to avoid a collision with Andrews. Harbaugh caught Humphrey’s eye after the play and gave him a thumbs up.
• Running back Justice Hill and undrafted cornerback David Vereen couldn’t avoid contact. Hill caught a pass into the flat and the catch took him straight into a rushing Vereen. Both players kept their feet, but the thud of the collision was audible.
• Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen appeared to hurt his ankle early in practice. Not only did Queen fight to stay on the training ground, but he and Josh Bynes got some extra conditioning, running side to side during the final stages of practice.
(Photo by Ricky Person and Tyler Badie: Scott Taetsch/USA Today)