The Ravens and Los Angeles* *Rams will meet for joint practices before their Aug. 9 preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium.
The details are still being ironed out, but there are already several interesting notes worth pointing out:
1) The Harbaugh-McVay connection
Joint practices are not directed by the NFL; they’re often worked out by the head coaches of the respective teams. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and Rams Head Coach Sean McVay have never coached together, but they both played football at Miami (Ohio).
Last year, just a couple months after McVay was hired by the Rams, he shared a funny story about bumping into Harbaugh while checking into the hotel at the NFL League Meetings in Phoenix.
The NFL Network was asking around about which coaches would be fastest in a 40-yard dash. McVay was one of the most popular picks given that he was the youngest head coach in NFL history (30) when hired and that he played wide receiver in college. Harbaugh challenged the vote.
“[Harbaugh] goes, ‘Yeah, I think I would take him! He was a possession receiver at Miami and I was a corner, so I’d take him,’” McVay said with a laugh. “He’s a good guy. I’ve always had a respect for him watching him from afar, and I’ll definitely reach out to him moving forward.”
2) The Crabtree-Talib connection
When Michael Crabtree signed with the Ravens and Aqib Talib was traded to the Rams, it looked like it would spell the end of their two-year spat. They were out of the same conference, and the Ravens and Rams aren’t scheduled to play each other until 2019 in Los Angeles.
The joint practices bring them together once again, however, and it will certainly draw a lot of attention.
The feud started when Talib broke Crabtree’s chain in their regular-season finale of the 2016 season. Why? Talib told the Denver Post that seeing Crabtree wear it was “growing on me.” Crabtree responded, saying, “You aren’t tough.”
The two met again last season and Crabtree wore another chain. As Crabtree was blocking Talib, the cornerback once again ripped off his chain. Crabtree drove him into the sideline and slammed him into the turf, which incited a bigger scrum. Both players threw punches at each other, were ejected and suspended two games.
Can the two squash their beef? Will they be kept apart? Will Crabtree wear his chain?
3) Great test for the Ravens defense and Wink Martindale
Baltimore’s defense dominated for much of last summer, both in practices and the preseason. This year, it will get a stronger test from one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
The Rams have young breakout quarterback Jared Goff, who went to the Pro Bowl in his second season. They also have 2017 AP Offensive Player of the Year running back Todd Gurley, who put up more than 2,000 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
L.A. traded for big-play wide receiver Brandin Cooks, adding him to an already strong receiver corps featuring Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tavon Austin.
L.A.’s players will challenge Baltimore on every level – the defensive line, linebackers and secondary.
It’s also a good matchup and practice for new Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, who will be calling plays against McVay’s creative and effective scheme. Martindale was last a defensive coordinator eight years ago with the Denver Broncos.
4) Battle in the trenches
The Rams will also provide a strong challenge for the Ravens’ revamped offensive line, as L.A. has two of the best defensive tackles in the league.
Aaron Donald is the reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year after registering 11 sacks and five forced fumbles last year. Ndamukong Suh, who the Rams signed to a one-year deal this offseason, is a five-time Pro Bowler.
Baltimore will be adjusting to the loss of Ryan Jensen in free agency, so there will be a new center and possibly new starting guard (Alex Lewis). Marshal Yanda will be back from last year’s season-ending ankle injury, though he’ll likely see time off during parts of training camp.
The Ravens will also likely have a new starting right tackle after the release of Austin Howard. James Hurst is the front-runner for the job as of now.
5) A homecoming for two Rams stars
The Rams’ trip to Baltimore will be a homecoming for a couple of their top offensive playmakers.
Many people know about Austin considering he was one of the most electrifying high school football players Maryland has ever seen. Then a running back, he led Dunbar to three consecutive Class 1A state titles.
The other homecoming will be for Gurley, who was born in Baltimore and grew up here before moving to North Carolina for high school. At 6 years old, he was so dominant in a Baltimore Pop Warner league that he was forced to play on his brother’s team against kids aged 9 to 11.