Some training camp observations:
Fans have witnessed more than a week of practices at the Under Armour Performance Center, but those on hand this past Thursday morning got lucky. The upside potential of the Ravens' revamped passing game was on full display, with Joe Flacco tossing strikes of varying lengths to an array of targets.
The show-stopper, no question, was a deep completion to wide receiver John Brown. He used a classic stutter-step move to blow by cornerback Marlon Humphrey, then raced straight downfield, his 4.34 speed in evidence. Flacco's majestic 55-yard rainbow hit him perfectly in stride as he crossed the goal line, eliciting a roar from the fans.
It was the most exhilarating play of camp so far, offering a glimpse of the explosive playmaking Brown can deliver. His route was a thing of beauty, his speed rare.
The Ravens hope Brown can regain his explosiveness after being limited by injuries during the past two seasons. The team's other veteran receiver acquisitions, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV, have received more attention, but watching Brown Thursday (he made several other nice catches), it's clear why the Ravens signed him.
Brown does more than just run deep routes and look up. His short and intermediate routes are sharp, his breaks precise, his hands sure. If he stays healthy – always a concern at his small size (178 pounds) – he could be quite a headache for opposing secondaries.
The presence of 12 draft picks and other new pieces on their roster means the Ravens will face some tougher-than-usual calls when they have to get down to 53 players in September.
With every roster spot so precious, I'm sure the front office would love to carry just three tight ends, a typical number. But I think they're going to need four this year.
Rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are going to make it, obviously, but veterans Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are presenting themselves as solid, versatile performers in camp, doing everything from making tough catches to lining up in the backfield as the run-game blocking back.
The Ravens drafted Hurst and Andrews in hopes of making themselves more dangerous at the position, but the NFL can be tough on rookie tight ends, and both have already dealt with injuries. Meanwhile, Boyle and Williams know the job cold and look ready to contribute.
Keeping one more tight end than usual means the Ravens would have to keep one less player than usual at another position, always a tricky situation. But given the quality of the personnel and the importance of tight ends to what the Ravens are trying to do offensively, that's a trade-off they can afford to make.
The Ravens often use July and August as a time to experiment with their offensive line, and this year is no different. In the past two days alone, Alex Lewis has played left guard and center, James Hurst has manned both guard spots, Matt Skura has played center and left guard, and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. has continued to receive an extended look at right tackle.
The situation wouldn't be as unsettled if Marshal Yanda (shoulder) were on the field instead of the Physically Unable to Perform list, but the team is expecting the All-Pro guard to be ready for the season opener, and honestly, despite the current juggling, I think it's already pretty clear where the Ravens are headed across the board up front.
I've seen nothing to indicate that anyone other than Skura will start at center, and the same holds true for Lewis at left guard, provided he is healthy. With Yanda at right guard and Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, that leaves right tackle as the only question mark. It's either Brown or Hurst there, and my money is on Hurst, a five-year veteran who was re-signed this offseason.
Kaare Vedvik probably has less chance of making the final roster than any player in camp. The rookie kicker-punter from Marshall would have to beat out Justin Tucker or Sam Koch. Good luck.
But I think I know why he still signed with the Ravens despite knowing he'd be in a long-odds spot. Their kicking operation is famous for coaching up talented guys who go on to have substantial careers elsewhere. Wil Lutz, Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano are three examples.
It will be interesting to see if Vedvik is the next in line. He has exhibited a truly monstrous leg in camp. During an indoor practice earlier this week, he booted a long kick not only through the uprights but also through an open door at the end of the practice bubble. Friday, he just missed a 59-yarder but converted one from 57. It won't be a surprise if he gets a shot somewhere.