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Mailbag: Sizing Up the Ravens' OTAs Participation

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Mink: Without doing a full roll call, the Ravens have strong attendance for their first week of organized team activities. Among those in attendance Wednesday are quarterback Lamar Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, linebacker Roquan Smith, safety Kyle Hamilton, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and many more.

OTAs are optional. Players are not required to be here. But it says something that so many of the team's leaders are in attendance. It sets the tone for everybody else that there is complete buy-in to get ready for the season.

The offense needs to take the next step in Year 2 under Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken and the offensive line competition begins now. The defense needs to adjust to the tweaks of first-year Defensive Coordinator Zach Orr and players have to step up to fill the holes left by free-agency departures. It's a big summer for Baltimore as it tries to replicate last year's success and more.

Brown: That's exactly what the Ravens want – continued growth from talented young edge rushers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo under the tutelage of pass rush specialist and Outside Linebackers Coach Chuck Smith.

I think we'll see that. Smith's work with the Ravens' pass rushers in 2023 during his first season on the staff played a significant part in Baltimore leading the NFL in sacks. Madubuike, Kyle Van Noy, Jadeveon Clowney and Oweh all set or equaled career highs. While those players did the work, they all gave credit to Smith for his concepts that help their pass rushing reach another level.

Clowney (Panthers) is gone, but Oweh and Ojabo are being counted on to help pick up the slack. Oweh took a step forward last season with five sacks and 12 quarterback hits, and the Ravens picked up his fifth-year option, keeping him under contract through 2025. Oweh's pass rush win rate of 18.2% ranked tied for 10th among all EDGE defenders with at least 100 rushes, per Pro Football Focus, and he was affecting the quarterback on a consistent basis.

The X-factor is Ojabo, who has been limited to just seven games during his first two seasons due to injuries. Smith didn't get the chance to work with Ojabo as much as he hoped last season. With Ojabo healthy again, I expect Smith's teachings to help Ojabo tap into his talent. Still only 24 years old, Ojabo got a late start in high school football and has plenty of upside with his athletic ability and work ethic. If he stays healthy, there's legitimate reason to think he'll make a jump in 2024 and be a regular part of the pass rush rotation.

Mink: I'd say the three receivers beyond the top three you mentioned would be rookie fourth-round pick Devontez Walker, Tylan Wallace, and Deonte Harty. The Ravens drafted Walker thinking he was the missing piece to their deep passing game. Of course, a lot goes into completing those passes, but the Ravens wanted to big, speedy receiver who could make those plays and they got it. Now Walker has to prove this summer that he's ready to have an offensive role in Year 1.

Wallace took over for Devin Duvernay as the primary returner last season when he was injured. His overtime punt return for a touchdown to beat the Los Angeles Rams was one of the signature plays of the season. But he's had a very limited offensive role in his first three seasons (seven catches for 67 yards), and he'll be again battling for a roster spot. This time, it will be against another proven returner in Harty, who the Ravens inked to a one-year deal this offseason. Harty is a speedster who could also add some wrinkles to the offense.

The Ravens probably keep six wide receivers but it's not a guarantee. The receiver competition is, like always, going to be a fun one to watch.

Brown: There's no doubt in my mind the Ravens will be ready for their Week 1 matchup against the Chiefs. It's the kind of scenario that's right up the Ravens' alley – being underdogs on the road. Last year's Christmas night matchup against the 49ers immediately comes to mind. That victory over San Francisco may have been Baltimore's best performance of the season.

While losing to the Chiefs in last year's AFC Championship is still fresh in the Ravens' memory, last year is over, and both teams have made significant changes. I can't wait to see Derrick Henry in a Ravens uniform running against the Chiefs' defense. In six games against the Chiefs including the playoffs, Henry has averaged 112.0 yards and 5.6 yards per carry with eight touchdowns. He's a problem for the Chiefs, and now he's in the same backfield with Lamar Jackson.

I'm also curious to see the Ravens' defense matchup against Patrick Mahomes under new Defensive Coordinator Zach Orr. To beat the Chiefs, you must keep Mahomes from dominating the game, particularly during crunch time. That's much easier said than done, but it's the kind of challenge that Orr loved as a player, and he'll be just as pumped as the players in his first game as a coordinator.

It's a tough assignment to open the season at Kansas City, but it's an exciting one. I expect the Ravens to play well and wouldn't be surprised to see them start 2024 with a W.

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