Six thoughts on the Ravens' mandatory minicamp, which took place at the Under Armour Performance Center this week:
The offensive line is set … probably.
Suddenly, with Eugene Monroe's release, there's clarity on the offensive front with Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, John Urschel at left guard, Jeremy Zuttah at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Rick Wagner at right tackle. They ran as the "ones" throughout minicamp and seem set to start in 2016. Left guard is probably the only slot that could change after rookie Alex Lewis turned heads in minicamp with his size and fierce attitude. His performance in training camp bears monitoring, and although it's unlikely the Ravens would start a rookie tandem on the left side, Head Coach John Harbaugh has pledged to start his best five linemen, period.
The Ravens' watchword for 2016 is …
Turnovers. You could see it on the practice field, hear it in the interviews sessions: After the Ravens struggled mightily to make their own breaks in 2015, the organization is dead set on seeing more miscues in 2016. Every minicamp practice included "turnover" drills on ball security. Cornerback Jimmy Smith revealed that "pick" standings were kept in the secondary meeting room, with Jerraud Powers on top, reflecting his strong minicamp play. The use of beeping "sensor" balls is an attempt to improve familiarity with the pigskin. There's a line of thought that turnovers result primarily from instinct and thus can't be "coached," but Ravens Secondary Coach Leslie Frazier said this week, "It is something you can work on. It is something you can transform."
It was a good week for the draft class.
Let's tote it up. Stanley, the first round pick, basically nailed down a starting job. Kamalei Correa, the second round pick, lined up at linebacker with the "ones" more than with the subs. Maurice Canady, a cornerback taken in the sixth round, was praised by Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees for having a standout minicamp. Kenneth Dixon, a running back taken in the fourth round, showed off what might be the quickest feet on the roster; when he performed a spin move around Running Backs Coach Thomas Hammock on a drill, Hammock just laughed at his agility. As mentioned, Lewis, another fourth round pick, turned heads with his ruggedness in the interior.
The best news of all.**
A lot of things happened on the field during the minicamp, but nothing was more important to the Ravens' chances in 2016 than what happened after the final session, when quarterback Joe Flacco spoke to reporters and declared he's "ready" to go, sufficiently recovered from his ACL injury and surgery that, he said, he could have played in the Super Bowl two months ago if forced. Flacco, who said he was under no restrictions, seemed more worried about his rusty arm than his knee, and I'm sure his arm will be fine. He also said he would continue to work out in Baltimore during the pending "dead" period before training camp. His rapid comeback from a late-November injury is a testament to how hard he worked. Of all the veterans coming back from injuries, Flacco appears to be the surest thing.
A four tight end set?
As crazy as it sounds, it produced touchdowns for the Patriots in red-zone situations last season, so there's precedent. Regardless, my point is the Ravens have the manpower to do it. They're deeper at tight end than at any position. Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Crocket Gillmore and Dennis Pitta all made plays during minicamp, as did Darren Waller, whose strong special teams play makes him a viable roster candidate. Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman loves multiple tight end sets, but he couldn't use them in 2015 because of all the injuries at the position. Now that he's got more tight ends than he can use, I'm sure he's doodling up some interesting alignments and combinations for 2016.
Once and for all.
Harbaugh denounced anyone speculating that Monroe was cut because of his outspoken medical marijuana advocacy. "It was 100 percent football," Harbaugh said of the decision. I'm sure there will be doubters, but I believe it. Monroe didn't help himself by taking his brave stand for a serious, legitimate cause well worth debating, but the Ravens were considering other guys for his starting spot as early as last year. Remember the late-season Kelechi Osemele experiment? Remember the big offer to Osemele, presented with the idea of making him the left tackle? The Ravens' dissatisfaction with Monroe as the left tackle was apparent long before he brought up medical marijuana. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, but football considerations drove the Ravens' decision-making.
Check out all the action from the three-day minicamp, where the Ravens had high-intensity practices in their final tune-up before training camp.