Brandon Williams has spoken about his eagerness to begin padded practices on Monday. He's not alone.
The Ravens will begin the most important phase of training camp next week, formulating decisions that will lead to the 53-man roster for the Sept. 13 season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
With no preseason games, practices will carry extra weight and the intensity level will be high. Players have been forced to wait longer for hitting this season, due to the training camp ramp-up period made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm feeling good for next week. I'll actually be able to see what these young guys got," Williams said. "You hear a lot of talk, you see a lot of good footwork on the field with the pads off, but when you finally get the pads on, you actually get to see what they have full-go."
Here are five important storylines when the Ravens return to the field for full-squad workouts:
The right guard competition
Which player will replace Marshal Yanda as the starting right guard? It's the biggest unanswered question on a team loaded with talent. Yanda became the starter in 2008 and he played the position at a Hall of Fame level.
At least four players are in the mix to win the job – D.J. Fluker, Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. All of them have a lot at stake. Unlike some other positions where you might see consistent game action even if you don't start, the offensive line is more all or nothing. You either start and play virtually every offensive snap, or you're watching from the sidelines.
Fluker may have the edge due to his seven years of NFL experience. However, this is his first Ravens training camp. He's learning Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's complex blocking schemes, on a team known for its fast-paced, physical practices. Fluker will have to prove he can handle the transition.
Powers wants to follow in the footsteps of left guard Bradley Bozeman, who won the starting job at training camp last year in his second season. Powers played in just one game as a rookie, but he spent the entire 2019 season on the practice field and had a chance to develop. This is Powers' chance to show he's ready.
Phillips (third round, Mississippi State) and Bredeson (fourth round, Michigan) are rookies, but they played in big-time conferences and have a rare opportunity to start right away. One thing's for sure. Practicing against the Ravens' defensive line that includes Calais Campbell, Williams and Derek Wolfe will be a major test for any guard who thinks he's ready to win the job.
There are a host of questions here. Can inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison be playmakers right away without the benefit of rookie camp or preseason? How does J.K. Dobbins fit into the running back rotation? Will Devin Duvernay and James Proche II add immediate juice as new targets for Lamar Jackson? Can Proche win the punt/kickoff return role? Will defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. be ready to spell the vets up front when they need a break, without the defense dropping off?
All pertinent questions, but Queen is the key rookie. He's the first-round pick, taking over at a position of need. The Ravens want their defense to be more physical, and Campbell and Wolfe can handle that. But they also want to be faster, and if Queen's ready to be the sideline-to-sideline playmaker he was at LSU, it will add another dimension to their defense.
The name "Lamar" in the NFL has become like Drake or Beyonce in music, or LeBron in the NBA. When you say "Lamar", no last name is necessary.
Teammates love Jackson because he doesn't act like he's a big deal, even though he's the reigning league MVP at age 23. But eyes are always on Jackson, and people want to know if he can top his remarkable 2019 season.
Asked how Jackson can take another step in his development, Roman mentioned several things.
"I think his knowledge of the game will improve. Game management, I think he's got an instinctive feel for that. I feel like he'll continue to improve in those areas," Roman said. "We're always looking to improve accuracy (and) decision-making. Consistency and then decision-making, which if we can get two to five percent better in those areas, it'll be pretty impressive.
When training camp ended last year, it was clear to everyone that Jackson had become a better player than the year before. Imagine if training camp ends this year, and it's clear to everyone that Jackson is better than he was in 2019. A lofty goal, but you can be sure Jackson is chasing it.
Matt Skura's return
The starting center began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but he passed his physical Sunday and is expected to be on the field Monday when the Ravens have their first padded practice of training camp. Skura has made an impressive recovery from his ACL, MCL, and PCL injury on Nov. 26.
Patrick Mekari was solid after he took over for Skura, but everyone is eager to see what Skura looks like on the practice field. He had become one of the league's top centers before his injury. If Skura is healthy enough to play Week 1, it stabilizes the offensive line.
"He's a very intelligent player," Roman said. "His understanding of the game made his communication process almost utterly seamless at times. A center is so important as far as getting everybody on the same page in today's NFL."
It's the elephant in the room for every NFL team – the quest to avoid the coronavirus. The Ravens are optimistic that the precautions being taken won't interrupt their preparation for a season that they are greatly anticipating.
"It's hard to describe the efforts that have gone into [this] from the players' side, from the league's side, from the club's side, from the medical staff. All the different areas of this building have been touched by this whole process," said Ravens Head Team Physician Dr. Andrew Tucker, with MedStar Health. "It's an extraordinary, extraordinary effort to get us where we are today, which is on track for hopefully a game in about a month."
Check out the action from the first padded practice of training camp when the intensity level turned up.