Mink: Anytime you install a new offense, there's going to be a learning curve. Much of that work has already been done during OTAs and minicamp, but training camp will still be a pivotal time for the offense to gain comfort within Todd Monken's system.
The good news is Lamar Jackson participated in OTAs and minicamp. As the engine and chief communicator within the offense, his comfort is of utmost importance. Jackson has spoken glowingly about how the process is going and how good he feels in the driver's seat.
The not-so-good news is several other key pieces of the offense haven't had much, or any, on-field work in Monken's offense yet. That list includes wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman and running back J.K. Dobbins. Jackson and Beckham have worked out together since minicamp, which is great, but not the same as practice.
I'm sure there will be days during training camp when the defense rules the roost. What Monken and Head Coach John Harbaugh will be looking for is steady improvement in the offensive operation throughout training camp. There's no saying how long it will take to grow fully comfortable, but the Ravens need to be sharp enough to win from the start of the year, especially considering they have three divisional road games within the first five weeks.
Downing: The running back market has been a hot topic around the NFL over the last few weeks, and Dobbins is certainly part of that conversation. He didn't participate in minicamp as he's seeking a new contract, and he hasn't said whether he plans to sit out any of training camp when that practice begins next week. Premier running backs around the NFL have been vocal on social media over the last few days in saying that other backs should do anything they can to get the contracts they deserve, and in some cases that means holding out of practice or even games.
With that said, I would be relatively surprised if Dobbins opts to hold out during training camp. I still believe that his best path to a big payday is to have a strong 2023 season and show that he's fully healthy from the knee injury. He made great progress with the injury over the course of last season, but he acknowledged at the end of the year that he still didn't have his top gear once he got into the open field. He's worked this offseason to get back to that point, but he hasn't been on the field yet for the Ravens to see the strides that he's made. Contract disputes can be messy and unpredictable, so there is an element of the unknown here. But I still think that Dobbins will play a significant role in the offense and that he's in store for the best season of his NFL career. If all that comes to fruition, then he will be in line for a nice pay raise going into the 2024 season.
Mink: The strengths of the defense are up the middle. The inside linebacker duo of Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen is one of the best in the league. The safety tandem of Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton has plenty of promise. Despite the loss of Calais Campbell, I still believe the defensive line is a strength too.
The outstanding question marks with the Ravens defense remain at cornerback and outside linebacker. The Ravens know their two starting cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Rock Ya-Sin, but don't yet know the rest of the pecking order, specifically the nickel corner. The outside linebacker group has a ton of potential, but the Ravens are banking on breakout seasons from young pass rushers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo, as well as a rebound from Tyus Bowser. That's why there's plenty of media and fan chatter about adding more veteran depth at those two positions.
Downing: That 2019 season was special. It was the best regular season in franchise history, and in some ways, the Ravens caught lightning in a bottle. The offense was new, Jackson took the league by storm, and the chemistry on that team was terrific. We'd all love to replicate the excitement and joy from that season. Given the competition in the division and the AFC overall, it's a lofty goal to expect another season like that. But I do think the Ravens can move closer to that point again in 2023.
A big factor is the fact that Jackson is now signed to a long-term contract, so that's not hanging over everything like it has the last two seasons. Jackson wants to be in Baltimore and the Ravens have given him the NFL's richest contract. Removing the contract discussion will be a welcomed change this season. I also like the chemistry of this team, with the addition of Beckham and Zay Flowers, who have spent time training with Jackson throughout the offseason. The vibes around this team are great going into training camp. Expecting another 14-win season like in 2019 might not come to fruition, but the Ravens absolutely have confidence that they can be one of the best teams in the league this year.