Eisenberg: Mark Ingram Gives Ravens’ Young Offense a Strong Spine

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Mark Ingram II is listed as an RB, a running back, on the Ravens’ roster. But it would also be appropriate for his position to be listed as CC – camp counselor.

Seriously, have you considered what the nine-year NFL veteran sees when surveying the other skill-position players the Ravens are counting on to shoulder major loads in 2019?

Lamar Jackson, the starting quarterback, is all of 22 years old, in his second pro season.

The other running backs besides Ingram are Gus Edwards, also in his second season, and Justice Hill, a rookie. Kenneth Dixon, 25, is battling for a roster spot and a role.

At tight end, the team hopes Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, a pair of second-year players, will catch passes and stretch the field. Nick Boyle, who’ll also receive a lot of playing time, could qualify as a grandfather in their company. This is his fifth pro season.

At wide receiver, it’s still not clear who’ll start, but there’s little doubt what the Ravens want. They didn’t draft Marquise (Hollywood) Brown at No. 25 overall this year thinking he might need a year or two to get going in the NFL. They’re hopeful he can start and contribute now, as a rookie.

They’d also love to see Brown’s fellow rookie receiver, Miles Boykin, a third-round pick, start on the other side. His performance in training camp and the preseason will determine whether that’s realistic.

Either way, another relative grandfather, Willie Snead IV, 26, will man the slot receiver role after leading the team in receptions in 2018.

Decades ago, when Baltimore’s other major league team, the Orioles, cast their lot with a bunch of young starting pitchers, fans called them “the Kiddie Corp.”

It’s a nickname that also fits the 2019 Ravens, at least offensively. There’s no doubt the organization is casting its lot with youth and speed over experience and track records when it comes to moving the ball.

But there’s one outlier in the blueprint – Ingram, 29, who is in his first season with the Ravens after spending eight with the New Orleans Saints, the team that drafted him back when dinosaurs roamed the earth in 2011.

Ingram’s impressive career totals of 1,549 touches, 7,605 total yards and 55 touchdowns easily exceed the combined career totals of every other skill-position player the Ravens are counting on. He might as well be Moses, gazing down from on high.

The Ravens targeted Ingram before free agency began and quickly signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal, and I admit, I didn’t quite understand their thinking at first. Their running backs performed well in 2018, especially Edwards down the stretch. Shouldn’t the front office focus on the team’s more pressing questions, such as who’ll rush the passer?

But now, months later, I entirely see what they were thinking. They have a new quarterback when counting from a year ago, a new offense and a new generation of speedy, young playmakers. That’s a whole lot of new. They need a steadying force amid it all, a dependable veteran who can be counted on to contribute, no question marks attached.

They need, quite simply, an adult to serve as an anchor in that huddle of youngsters.

They couldn’t have found many players better suited for the role. Ingram is mature and consistent, a pro’s pro. He can handle Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman’s complex running scheme, help show others what to do. His advanced statistics suggest he’s still in his prime, picking up tons of yards after contact.

Most importantly, he brings greater versatility than the Ravens had at running back a year ago. He’s adept at catching passes out of the backfield. Built like a tank, he identifies and negates opposing blitzers – a key skill. And he can hit holes anywhere along the line after taking a handoff.

The organization is all about building a fast, darting offense around a fast, darting quarterback. But with Ingram lined up beside Jackson, that offense still has a strong spine. Yeah, I get it now.

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