Ravens Nearly Totally Healthy as They Head to Indianapolis
Knock on wood right now.
With that out of the way, it’s certainly notable that the Ravens officially got through training camp without any major injuries.
Other than the three players who began training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, only one Ravens player (undrafted linebacker Alvin Jones) was missing from the field for Thursday’s morning practice before the team departed for Indianapolis.
Even the team’s minor injuries have cleared up at this point. Safety Bennett Jackson, who had not practiced in about two weeks, was back on the field Thursday.
The three players that remain on PUP will stay there even once the regular season begins: inside linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee) and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).
It’s a far cry from last offseason when Baltimore lost tight end Dennis Pitta, cornerback Tavon Young, guard Alex Lewis, linebacker Albert McClellan, running back Kenneth Dixon, wide receiver Tim White, tight end Crockett Gillmore and guard Nico Siragusa to season-ending injuries over the summer and in training camp. Quarterback Joe Flacco sat out all of training camp with an injured back.
Patrick Onwuasor Talks About ILB Competition
Outside of right tackle, the starting inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley is the only one up for grabs. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said it’s still an even battle between fourth-round pick Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor.
On Thursday, Onwuasor said he’s welcomed the competition with the rookie.
“I feel like it’s great. I feel like we’re both competing, both playing fast,” Onwuasor said. “He’s pushing me; I’m pushing him.”
Entering his third NFL season, Onwuasor has a leg up in terms of NFL experience. However, Young has been playing linebacker longer. Thus, both are learning from each other.
Onwuasor was recruited to Arizona as a wide receiver. His love of hitting and a coaching change moved him to safety. When Onwuasor arrived in Baltimore as an undrafted free agent, Martindale, then the Ravens’ linebackers coach, told him that he was moving into his classroom.
“I’m like, ‘Uh, I don’t know how to play linebacker,’” Onwuasor said. “So the first thing ‘Wink’ said was, ‘Fly around, play fast, be physical and I’ll teach you the basics after that.’ … So ever since then, I believed him, and we’ve been riding along with it.”
Onwuasor made a name for himself as an undrafted rookie with his hard hits and special teams play. Last year, he wrestled the starting job away from Kamalei Correa by Week 5 and notched 90 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
Onwuasor feels like a linebacker now, and he’s learned a lot from playing the position full-time over the past year. He’s said he’s been working a lot on his pass coverage this offseason and is getting better at reading routes. Asked what the most important thing to learn was, Onwuasor said diagnosing plays.
“Knowing when it’s boot, when it’s time to get out, turn open and run and things like that,” Onwuasor said. “Or probably like seeing a puller, knowing I have to react to that fast. Little things like that that I’m starting to pick up on a little faster now.”
What Matt Skura Needs to Show to Start
There doesn’t appear to be much of a competition at center right now as Matt Skura is the only one getting first-team reps. However, Skura needs to keep getting better to fill the void left by Ryan Jensen’s departure in free agency.
Skura started 12 games at right guard last season after Marshal Yanda went down with his broken ankle. However, his natural position, and what he played throughout college at Duke, is center.
As he enters his third season, the former undrafted lineman is still learning what it takes to be a starting-caliber center.
“The biggest thing for me is being able to hold my own against the big nose tackles and also being able to manage an offense – being able to take Joe [Flacco’s] call in the huddle, decipher it, and then go out and read the defense and make sure everyone’s on the same page,” Skura said.
One of Skura’s strengths is his communication and his smarts. He’s good at reading defenses, and he’s only gained more experience doing that considering all the exotic blitzes he sees from the Ravens defense in practice.
Skura is more of a technician while Jensen was known for his size, brute strength and nastiness in the trenches. But Skura doesn’t count out seeing some of that from himself.
“I save those things for the game for sure,” Skura said with a smile. “Definitely, taking that physical and nasty attitude to the game is something I want to continue to do.”
James Hurst’s Versatility Is All About Helping the Team
James Hurst has played everywhere but center on the Ravens’ offensive line.
He came to Baltimore in 2014 as a left tackle and started seven games there as an undrafted rookie, including two playoff games. In his second season, injuries again pushed him into the starting left tackle spot for eight games.
In 2016, Hurst started three games, including one at right tackle. Last year, he entered the summer competing for the right tackle spot but ended up starting 16 games at left guard.
For much of this summer, Hurst has filled in at right guard for Yanda. Now he finds himself back at right tackle competing for the starting job with rookie Orlando Brown Jr.
It’s been a whirlwind for Hurst, who the Ravens re-signed to a four-year deal in March. He entered this offseason with the goal of winning a starting job regardless of injuries. He has his chance, but is also highly valued for his versatility.
“I think it’s just trying to be coachable, understanding that everyone has a role on the team,” Hurst said.
“If you’re not a starter, you’re a backup. If you’re not starting you’re going to have to be able to play all positions. We only dress seven on gameday, so just having that mindset of, ‘Hey, I’m going to do the best I can for the team. I’m going to play my role as well as I can, and work to get better every day.’”