The Ravens had the NFL's highest-scoring offense last season, but to remain prolific, they can't stand pat.
Head Coach John Harbaugh wants the Ravens to capitalize on more deep passes next season, particularly when opponents crowd the line of scrimmage.
The Ravens still plan to run the football better than anyone else in the NFL. But when their receivers are in single coverage and Lamar Jackson takes shots downfield, the Ravens need to hit on big plays more often.
"Those corners are going to be one-on-one and those safeties are going to be one-on-one against receivers, especially on downfield throws, and we got to make them pay for it," Harbaugh said during a Thursday conference call with PSL owners. "I really do believe that's the next step for this offense from an execution standpoint. I really do believe Lamar is going to take the next step and our receivers are going to take the next step."
Jackson's passing stats improved dramatically from his rookie year to his sensational second season when he was the league's MVP. He completed 66.1 percent of his passes and led the league in touchdown passes with 36, including 25 touchdown tosses while throwing from the pocket, which led the NFL.
However, as opponents search for more ways to contain Jackson, he must continue to improve as a thrower and his wide receivers must make the play on the other end too.
The Ravens drafted wide receivers Devin Duvernay (third round) and James Proche (sixth round) and they will join Marquise Brown, Willie Snead IV, Miles Boykin and tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle as Jackson's primary targets. Boykin said he and several Ravens planned to work out with Jackson next week in Florida in an effort to build chemistry and timing before training camp.
With more firepower and a more experienced Jackson, Harbaugh is expecting greater success throwing downfield. The Ravens aren't going to abandon being a run-first offense after setting an NFL record for team rushing yards in a single season. But if the deep passing game becomes more lethal, coupled with Baltimore's potent running game, the combination could make the Ravens "undefendable", as they've stated the goal to be this season.
"We should have more guys open and we should have bigger plays and we should create more opportunities in the passing game because of that run game," Harbaugh said.
"I wouldn't say we're going to scrap the run game and I wouldn't say we're going to become a more conventional offense – that's the last thing we want to do. We didn't change the offense to scrap the idea that we want to cause people problems. We just want to get better at taking advantage of weaknesses."
Other topics during the conference call included:
The early plan is start first-round pick Patrick Queen at middle linebacker.
Harbaugh indicated both Queen and third-round pick Malik Harrison could start as rookies, with Queen in the middle and Harrison playing the weakside
"Let [Queen] use his speed and instincts to run around and make plays in all three phases, be a three-down guy both in our base package and sub package," Harbaugh said "Those two guys (Queen and Harrison) will be kind of roaming in there at those two linebacker spots … and we'll see just how much playing time they earn. We expect them to play a lot of football this year. We're really fired up about those two guys."
The Ravens also have two experienced inside linebackers in L.J. Fort and Jake Ryan, as well as youngsters Chris Board and Otaro Alaka, to compete for playing time.
Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith will likely see reps at safety.
Baltimore's cornerback rotation is the deepest in the NFL, headlined by Pro Bowlers Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, along with Smith and nickel Tavon Young. Harbaugh plans to utilize that depth and versatility.
"We put Marlon at nickel quite a bit last year, so Marlon can go in there and matchup inside and Jimmy can play outside," Harbaugh said. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if you saw those three corners on the field. We could put four corners on the field very easily."
Harbaugh also said Smith will likely see time at safety too, just as Brandon Carr did last season. After re-signing on a one-year deal this offseason, Smith said two months ago that he was excited for a new role and potentially matching up against tight ends.
"Our defense is based on that premise, the idea that guys can play multiple positions," Harbaugh said. "It's not unusual for us to move guys around. You'll see safeties playing linebacker, linebackers playing safety, defensive ends playing middle linebacker. From play-to-play, we really try to keep the offense from understanding who is where and (why)."
The Ravens must embrace the expectations that come with being a Super Bowl favorite.
There is nothing the Ravens can do about the abrupt end to last season's Super Bowl dreams. But Harbaugh believes the team will grow from the bitter experience.
"They are just pissed about it," Harbaugh said. "They are not happy about it. I expect our guys to learn from that and understand what it takes to beat an opponent that is determined to beat you."
Part of that process will be embracing high expectations. Last offseason, the Cleveland Browns were the buzz of the NFL pick after making a big splash in free agency while the defending division champion Ravens flew under the radar.
But after the Ravens' franchise-best 14-2 regular season, every opponent will be stoked to face the Ravens in 2020, and have an entire offseason to study their innovative attack.
"Going into our season last yea, we were the iceberg," Harbaugh said. "Ninety percent of what we were going to be capable of was still under water and people hadn't seen it yet. Starting next year, we're not going to be the iceberg. People are going to see us. We're going to be everybody's most important game."
Bradley Bozeman will start somewhere, either at guard or center.
After starting every game at left guard in 2019, Bradley Bozeman is entrenched as a starter for next season. But it has not been determined if Bozeman will remain at guard or move to center.
Last year's starting center, Matt Skura, is coming back from knee surgery. Patrick Mekari ended last season as the starting center after Skura's season-ending injury in Week 10.
The Ravens also have recently-signed veteran D.J. Fluker, and rookies Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson competing for interior offensive line spots with Marshal Yanda's retirement.
"We can move guys around," Harbaugh said. "We have Boze, who can play center. There's just a lot of ways we can do it. We're going to find out about the first two or three weeks of training camp what looks the best and then let them fight it out. Let them compete. We'll have our best five guys. I do know the two tackles (Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.). Bozeman's going to start."
At least one undrafted tight end should make the roster.
The Ravens love using tight ends in Roman's system and former first-round pick Hayden Hurst was traded to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. General Manager Eric DeCosta was excited to sign undrafted tight ends Jacob Breeland and Eli Wolf, and Harbaugh reiterated that both have an excellent chance to make the 53-man roster.
"These two guys we thought were draftable guys for sure," Harbaugh said. "Eli, very similar to Hayden. Breeland, he's more a of a receiver-type guy a little bit like Hayden, a little bit like Mark (Andrews). We're going to want to carry those types of bodies because of the offense we run. At least one of them will make the team. Maybe they'll both make it, you never know."
Having four quality running backs is not an issue.
Some were surprised when the Ravens drafted former Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round, but having a deep running back rotation suits a run-heavy team. Mark Ingram II is coming off a 1,000-yard season, and Harbaugh said there was room for Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill on the 53-man roster as well.
"Is that really a problem to have four guys that are capable of breaking off big runs and making guys miss?" Harbaugh said. "There's roles for all those guys."
Harbaugh said he expects a "big jump" from Hill in his second year, and talked about how he started to come on at the end of last season.
"This guy is fast," Harbaugh said. "His attitude is A-plus."
Miles Boykin has another big believer in his head coach.
Speaking of second-year players who coaches are expecting to break out, Harbaugh said he has "really high hopes" for wide receiver Miles Boykin. Boykin caught 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns last season, but should have a bigger role in 2020 and could be a starter opposite Brown.
Harbaugh shared that Boykin bought a JUGS machine this offseason to work on his hands in his own time, but that he did need some time to do some rehab.
"He's a big, fast and talented guy," Harbaugh said.