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Day 2 Notes: Mandatory Minicamp

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Ravens minicamp Day 2

QB/WR Chemistry Run Hot and Cold During Minicamp

After throwing three interceptions on Tuesday, Lamar Jackson was locked in from the very start of the second day of the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp, finding Mark Andrews early and often in 7-on-7 drills.

Even back-to-back hiccups – a tipped pass by Trenton Simpson that was still caught by Zay Flowers and a high incompletion to Andrews with Simpson in tight coverage – couldn’t derail the two-time MVP from arguably his best showing of the spring.

“Today was probably the best day in a long time of him having the freedom to do what he wants to do,” said quarterbacks coach Tee Martin after practice.

Indeed, Jackson was in full control of his offense throughout the afternoon, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage and avoiding the pre-snap penalties that plagued the Ravens on Tuesday. He commanded the pocket well, too, finding targets all over the field, especially his tight ends: Andrews, Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar, who make up the best TE room in the league.

Andrews, of course, does it all, but his chemistry with Jackson has been an annual highlight since they entered the league together in 2018. That was on full display on Wednesday, with Jackson and Andrews consistently working tight windows over the middle of the field.

Likely’s athleticism shows up on every snap, both when making tough catches and picking up yards after the catch. He did both yesterday, including his second one-handed snag in as many days. (“He needs to catch the ball with two hands,” joked Jackson after practice.)

Kolar hasn’t gotten much play time since being drafted, but he’d be TE2 on several other NFL rosters. His 6-foot-6 frame and reliable hands make him a great target running up the seam and creating separation against zone coverage.

Jackson spread his targets out among his receiving corps, with his best pass of the day finding Zay Flowers in the corner of the end zone. It was an expertly-placed ball – only Flowers could get to it – and the second-year receiver timed his jump perfectly to secure the touchdown.

Jackson said his chemistry with Flowers is “better than last year” after the two spent time together during the offseason in their shared home of South Florida.

“I can’t really describe our chemistry – I believe it’s great; I can say that,” said Jackson, “ Just being around him down in Florida, running every route on the route tree and just trying to build. It’s working out for us.”

Jackson also hit Tylan Wallace a number of times, showing confidence in the fourth-year receiver after a drop early in practice. Wallace didn’t let another ball hit the turf, reeling in everything thrown his way on a variety of routes. The Ravens don’t have a clear WR4 behind Flowers, Rashod Bateman, and Nelson Agholor; rookie Devontez Walker has impressed so far, but Wallace should have pole position for a bigger role on offense than his first three seasons.

Bateman caught one pass from Jackson, beating Brandon Stephens on a comeback, but he otherwise struggled to sync up with his quarterback, a recurring theme this spring after the two attended different sessions of OTAs. The pair couldn’t connect on a few deep balls on Wednesday, which was their weakness last season. Since then, the two don’t appear to have spent any extra time together, something Jackson seemed to allude to at the end of his presser.

“I would love to do that, but some guys don’t want to leave their state,” said Jackson when asked about working out with his pass catchers during the break before training camp. “They’re going to have to come to South Florida. They’re going to have to do it. We have to. We’re trying to get to the Super Bowl, and for us to do that, we have to grind. We have to build chemistry.”

There’s certainly some irony in Jackson calling out his teammates for staying in their home states while insisting that they have to come to his own, but Bateman appeared willing to make the extra effort when asked last month.

“We didn’t have that connection,” said Bateman on Glenn Clark Radio on May 1, “and that’s due to me, my injury. I wasn’t able to work out with him in the offseason. I missed all of training camp. For a QB, that’s tough. You gotta feel your receivers.”

Pressure Points

That chemistry is especially important to a quarterback who faces pressure as often as Jackson does; his rate of blitz faced jumped from 27.7% of his dropbacks in 2020 to 40.0%, 39.2% and 37.9% in the last three seasons, respectively, per Pro Football Focus.

There may be no better defense to test Jackson’s mettle against the blitz than his own; new defensive coordinator Zach Orr is building on the pressure packages designed by Mike Macdonald and adding his own twists – literally.

Tee Martin appreciates the challenge posed by Orr’s ultra-aggressive play call.

“We’re seeing a lot of exotic looks and a lot of pressures from Zach and his crew, and it’s good for us too, because it’s testing our rules, and it’s testing the quarterback’s ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage.”

Not only is Orr effectively imitating the blitzes that stymied the Ravens in the playoffs, he’s expanding on those looks to up the difficulty and hopefully help the offense in the long-term.

“Our defense is doing a heck of a job, not only giving us those looks, but looks that challenge us even more than that,” continued Martin. “We’re building the tools that we need to do to pick up those pressures and give Lamar and a little bit more time and be successful in the passing game.”

On Wednesday, much of that pressure came from a familiar source: Justin Madubuike, who recorded a sack and a bat-down during practice. He could be seen working with Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo during warm-ups, with the trio fine-tuning the timing and targeting of their pass rush moves.

Macdonald’s lasting influence on the defense was especially evident, starting with the Arthur Maulet special, one of the most effective defensive plays in football. He forced a quick incompletion on his trademark slot blitz after a two-turnover day on Tuesday; at just $4 million over the next two years, Maulet might be the best non-rookie bang-for-buck on the roster.

First-round pick Nate Wiggins was also involved in a few blitz packages, with the rookie’s length and closing speed rapidly shutting down throwing windows. It might take a season before Wiggins sees the field full-time, but his speed will be a weapon in disguised coverages and as a pass rusher in Orr’s versatile, aggressive defense.

RB Report

Derrick Henry may not sound the part – he was surprisingly quiet during press availability on Tuesday – but he certainly looks it. You could say that he speaks softly and carries a big stiff arm, one of the many parts of his physical game he hasn’t been able to show off in padless practices with minimal contact.

That hasn’t stopped Henry from impressing around the facility with his work ethic and easy assimilation into the Ravens Way.

“He wants to be the best, and he wants to know everything that’s going on,” said running backs coach Willie Taggert, “When he’s not here, he’s texting me, asking me what we put in, or if he’s watching film, he’s asking me something about what’s on the film [and] what we’re doing. It’s been great, as a coach, to have a guy like that, that’s played this long, still wanting to play at a high level.”

Taggert described Henry’s work habits as “elite” on Wednesday, adding that he was surprised by the veteran RB’s dedication to learning the fine-grain details of his new offense.

“It seems like he’s been a Raven all his life. He can fit in the room seamlessly,” continued Taggert. “You kind of assume a guy that’s had that much success will come in and have his way of doing things, but Derrick wants to understand how we’re doing it, and he wants to do everything he can to help this football team win a championship.”

Taggert did express some initial concern about Henry’s fit in the Ravens offense given his history of running the ball from under center.

“I’m not going to lie, I questioned that, until he got here,” admitted Taggert, whose concerns were quickly assuaged by Henry’s swift feet.

“It’s really impressive for a guy that size to move the way he does,” said Taggert, “Seeing him do it from the gun, I don’t think we’ll have any problem.”

Not only does Henry’s presence in the backfield take some of the pressure off Jackson to create offense, it also gives the Ravens something they haven’t had in several years: a true workhorse.

Henry’s three-down dominance will limit the snaps of Justice Hill and rookie Rasheen Ali, but both will be effective change-of-pace backs until the return of the electric Keaton Mitchell later this fall.

Just as he has for the last few offseasons, Hill has succeeded in anything asked of him: a variety of run schemes, catching passes out of the backfield, picking up blitzers in pass protection, and contributing on special teams. He may not be exceptional in any one category, but his jack-of-all-tradesmanship makes him an excellent backup to a workhorse like Henry. Anytime the veteran needs a breather, Hill can step on the field and fill any RB role in the Ravens offense.

Ali had a number of solid carries on Wednesday as well, showcasing his ability to get small and find creases in the offensive line. Taggert praised Ali for his dedication to getting better every day, whether he’s at the facility or not.

“He’s a young man that really, really wants to be really good and wants to know everything. He’s another one that’s calling and texting and wanting to know what he’s supposed to do,” said Taggert.

“But watching him out here, each practice, he’s getting better and better. You can tell that he’s getting comfortable, and from a talent standpoint, he’s very talented. I’m excited to see him in training camp – when we get in pads.”

Minicamp Notes From Day 1

The post Day 2 Notes: Mandatory Minicamp appeared first on Russell Street Report.


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