Impressions and thoughts from the Ravens' mandatory minicamp, which unfolded this week at the Under Armour Performance Center:
-The preseason is seldom that exciting, but it's going to be interesting and then some this year as the Ravens roll out a new offense. Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's unit looked fast-paced and sure of itself in practice. Joe Flacco's command of the new system was apparent. His passing was decisive and sharp. "I think we look pretty good," Flacco said. It was hard to argue. But looking good against an opposing defense is the next challenge.
- There's been a lot of drama about the right tackle job this offseason, especially since Michael Oher signed with Tennessee. The weeks leading up to the draft were filled with questions and speculation about what the Ravens might do. Well, they didn't draft a tackle. And now there's NO drama at right tackle. Rick Wagner ran with the starters throughout organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. The Ravens liked what they saw. A 2013 fifth-round draft pick, Wagner is leaner than a year ago, physical, smart and the clear-cut No. 1 for now. There doesn't appear to be much of a competition.
- Head Coach John Harbaugh made tentative assessments on several subjects but added that "we'll know more when the pads come on," i.e., when the players start hitting each other in training camp. Things can change then. And in the case of running back Ray Rice, I would take it a step farther. He looks noticeably leaner and exhibits quickness and a burst, all good signs, but the big question with him is whether he can make defenders miss him again. It's a skill that eluded him in 2013, and I don't know that training camp or the preseason will provide an answer. We won't know until the fall, when defenders are bringing their "A" games.
- For now at least, we have an answer to the question of who replaces Art Jones on the starting defensive line. Brandon Williams, the team's third-round pick in 2013, mostly ran with the starting unit in minicamp, playing alongside veterans Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty. If that remains the case once the season begins, it would represent quite a leap forward for Williams, who had trouble getting on the field as a rookie.
- It's still way early, but Timmy Jernigan, the rookie defensive lineman from Florida State, looks like he might be an immediate contributor. He is stout, quick and has a mean streak. I watched him flush Tyrod Taylor out of the pocket and chase the backup quarterback toward the sideline without yielding much ground – a play that made you go, 'Did I just see that?"
- It didn't surprise me that veteran cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Aaron Ross were signed after their minicamp tryouts. Both are experienced pass defenders, and Franks, in particular, seemed to fare well. They'll now compete with each other, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and others for the No. 3 cornerback job vacated by Corey Graham – an important slot given the popularity of three-wide (receiver) sets around the league. My early hunch is one of the just-signed vets will earn the job. But Jackson did show off impressive athleticism when he jumped high to intercept a Flacco pass on the last day of minicamp.
- When I heard Haloti Ngata say he would like to get double-digit sacks in 2014, I went, "Whoa, big man!" Ngata, 30, has never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season, so double digits would represent an exponential increase. Frankly, it's more important that he get back to his old, immovable self in the middle of the run defense. Early returns are encouraging. It was evident in minicamp that he feels better physically than he did last year, when he was coming off knee surgery necessitated by his injury in the Super Bowl. He looked energetic this week.
- Quick hits: Second-year wide receiver Marlon Brown seemed to have a slight case of the drops during minicamp … It's impressive to watch first-round pick C.J. Mosley in a drill where the linebackers drop back and leap for an interception. His athleticism stands out … Justin Tucker had a strong spring season. Did he miss? … Darian Stewart would be the starting free safety if the Ravens had to roll out a starting defense today.