Ravens Rookies Equipped to Handle Shortened Offseason
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of the NFL offseason, but we're getting closer to football.
The Ravens were one of eight teams to reportedly have their infectious disease emergency response (IDER) plan approved, and Baltimore wrapped up contract negotiations with the rest of its rookie class yesterday.
Now the focus shifts to training camp, and rookies are the first to report to the Under Armour Performance Center.
Up to now, they've been limited to an entirely virtual offseason, missing 16 total practices through rookie minicamp, OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
"There is probably no perfect comp for the challenge that the Ravens' current 31 rookies, and the rest of the league's neophytes, face as they approach their first professional training camp and the end of one of the most unique and daunting offseasons in NFL history," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "They reported to the team facility this week without ever having taken part in an NFL practice after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out rookie minicamps, organized team activities and mandatory minicamps, and turned offseason programs into virtual learning sessions."
It's not the first time players have dealt with something like this. The NFL lockout in 2011, which lasted from March 12 to July 25, eliminated most of the offseason.
Nine years later, Zrebiec spoke to those rookies and they believe this year's class is much better equipped to handle a shortened offseason.
"I wouldn't say they are light years ahead of us, but at least they got to go through weeks of the training," Jimmy Smith told Zrebiec. "Even though it was virtual, they got to do the run test. They did get some of the stuff. They had it better than what we had. Obviously, there's a pandemic so it's a little more scary going back up there. But if we would have been allowed to have as much (activity) as they've had, I think we would have been a little better off."
Added Pernell McPhee: "They kind of know what to expect coming in. You had the opportunity to talk to other players and coaches. But we didn't know what to expect in 2011. We didn't have the chance to talk to nobody. It was just train, train, train and wait."
One of the biggest advantages for the 2020 rookie class is technology. Zoom meetings have allowed for rookies to meet with coaches virtually and get introduced to the playbook.
"John Harbaugh and his coaching staff worked very hard this offseason to come up with creative ways to teach the rookies the offense and defense," Zrebiec added. "That included playing virtual games and giving players pop quizzes. In 2011, rookies didn't even have access to the playbook until just before training camp practices."
However, one of the biggest disadvantages is the virus itself. Social distancing and quarantine guidelines have limited opportunities to practice. A lot of the rookies have only met each other and coaches during online meetings.
But from the start, pundits have expressed confidence in the Ravens' ability to overcome an atypical offseason.
"There's always an advantage for veteran teams that are well run, but I think this year more than ever," Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd said in May. "The well-run organizations: the Baltimores, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots … are just going to flourish because they have stability [and] many of the same people."
Pro Bowl Expectations for Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown
On Tuesday, we highlighted an article from NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund that projected Brown to be one of the AFC's most improved players this season.
Zrebiec took it a step further. In The Athletic's team-by-team prediction identifying the next wave of NFL standouts, Zrebiec predicted a Pro Bowl season for Brown.
"Brown was a first-round pick in 2019 and his variety of offseason workouts, many of which he's documented on social media, have gotten plenty of attention," Zrebiec wrote. "He's not your prototypical under-the-radar candidate. However, there remains a good bit of skepticism about Brown, due to his size (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) and the Ravens' run-heavy offense. After watching him catch seven touchdown passes as a rookie despite practicing very little all year and playing at only about 50 percent because of a painful foot injury, the Ravens believe he's ready to become a feared front-line receiver."
The Ravens invested a first-round pick in Brown with the belief that he can develop into No. 1 receiver. The running game will still be a focal point of the offense, but the emergence of Brown, paired with the improvement of Miles Boykin and additions of rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche, should open up the passing game.
Brown will look to join Mecole Hardman as the only receiver in the 2019 draft class to make the Pro Bowl. Hardman made it as a returner last year.
"Brown showed limited explosiveness on the field during the previous term, averaging 12.7 yards per reception," Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton wrote. "Now, at full strength, he could take the top off defenses more frequently in 2020."
Ravens Front-Office Director Named to The Athletic's NFL 40 Under 40 List
As general manager, DeCosta is the most recognizable front office personnel for the Ravens, but there are plenty of faces behind the scenes that are important to the operation.
One of those employees is Nick Matteo, the Ravens' Director of Football Administration. Matteo, 36, was named to The Athletic's "NFL 40 under 40" list, which highlights rising stars across the league in various roles under the age of 40.
"Hired by the Ravens in 2019 after working for a decade with the NFL Management Council, Matteo now oversees all salary cap matters for the Ravens and also negotiates contracts and handles general transactions," The Athletic wrote. "He seems to be on the fast track."
During the NFL Draft, Matteo was in charge of turning in the Ravens' picks to the league office, a vital job during an entirely virtual operation.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry and the salary cap has become even more important in today's game. That holds true for the Ravens as they'll be tasked with making major salary cap decisions over the next few seasons.
More Recognition for Ronnie Stanley as NFL's Top Tackle
Coming off an All-Pro season, Ronnie Stanley has cemented himself as one of the NFL's top offensive linemen.
Touchdown Wire’s Mark Schofield believes Stanley is the best and ranked him as his No. 1 offensive tackle.
"It was hard, like it is for almost every position, to pick a top name," Schofield wrote. "We're going with Stanley, who was almost perfect last season. Stanley allowed just one sack in 2019 (which came in the Divisional Round against the Tennessee Titans) and one quarterback hit, which came back in Week 4. Yes, he has the benefit of Lamar Jackson playing behind him, who can escape from a variety of situations, but the Ravens also run a diverse offensive system which asks a lot of the offensive line. And Stanley handles it all well."
The Ravens exercised Stanley's fifth-year option, but there's a reason why he could be on his way to becoming the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback.
Stanley was almost perfect protecting Jackson's blindside last season and the numbers back it up. He was named Pro Football Focus’ Pass Blocker of the Year, and his 93.7 pass blocking grade was one of the best PFF has ever recorded.
In nine of 16 games this season, Stanley kept a perfect clean sheet as a pass-blocker, and what's impressive is that he wasn't just substituting defeats with penalties, being flagged only five times all season," PFF's Sam Monson added. "Stanley certainly benefited from Baltimore's run-heavy offense, but he was still asked to pass block on 470 snaps over the regular season, giving him a win rate of 98.7% on his pass protection this season."
The Ravens have the reigning MVP under center, and they want to give him every opportunity to continue his growth as a passer. Many pundits have reiterated that Eric DeCosta must do everything he can to keep Stanley in Baltimore long-term.
"As they say, a five-tool player," Schofield added. "[A]n elite tackle in today's game."