The Ravens' offensive line was a source of consternation around Baltimore after the team's first preseason game, but with starting pieces fitting back into place, new right guard Kevin Zeitler is feeling good about what he sees.
Zeitler missed eight practices over about two weeks as he dealt with a foot injury. He returned Monday and participated in both joint sessions with the Carolina Panthers.
"[It's] training camp – long, long process – and it's always unfortunate when you miss a little time, but I'm glad to be back," Zeitler said. "I feel great, and I'm starting to get the grind on and get to where I want to be."
The Ravens have been operating with a shuffled line as left tackle Ronnie Stanley ramps up his participation in his return from last year's season-ending ankle injury. Center Bradley Bozeman also missed a practice after tweaking his ankle in the preseason opener. Right tackle Alejandro Villanueva did not practice Thursday.
That has led to concerns about how much the projected starting offensive line has been able to gel this preseason. The left guard job is still up for grabs, but even the other four starters have still not participated in live 11-on-11 drills yet in training camp.
"Well, for me personally, [building chemistry has] varied quite a bit, but I like this line," Zeitler said. "There are a lot of people who've been here already, there are a lot of veteran players, and I think we all like each other quite a bit, so I'm hoping that it speeds it up."
One thing that particularly stands out to Zeitler is the offensive line's size. The Ravens lost one of their bigger maulers in Orlando Brown Jr. but replaced him with the tallest player on the team in Villanueva. Now Zeitler, who is a large man at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, is the "small" guy.
"I'd definitely say I think this is the biggest line I've ever been on," said Zeitler, who previously played for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's pretty wild – you see some of the genetic freaks that the league produces, and you're like, 'Jeez, why can't I be like that?' But that's exciting. In this league, you need big people who can do crazy, cool, athletic things, and I think we've got that group of people."
No Word on How Much Lamar Jackson Will Play in Carolina
Lamar Jackson didn't play in the preseason opener against the Saints at M&T Bank Stadium and it remains to be seen whether he'll suit up in the second game either. Head Coach John Harbaugh chose not to divulge that information when asked Thursday.
"That's kind of our thing, just as you know, not to really talk about who's playing and who's not playing," Harbaugh said. "We just kind of take it as it comes and play it out."
The Panthers announced that their starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, will get one or two series against the Ravens Saturday night.
With the preseason shortened to three games, it remains to be seen how teams will treat the third contest. Will it be like the traditional fourth game in previous years when hardly any starters played? If so, Saturday's second preseason game would be the time for Jackson to get some game action before the start of the regular season.
Jackson had just one week of practice under his belt before the preseason opener and more pieces were missing along the offensive line. With Zeitler back, the line is in better shape and Jackson has had more practice reps before taking the field, including high-quality game-like reps against the Panthers.
Harbaugh said that practice reps are part of the formula for deciding who plays in the preseason games.
"Lamar had a really excellent two days – excellent," Harbaugh said. "I'll tell you; Lamar is going to beat himself up about every play he didn't make, you know? He made lots of plays. It's just, 'Hey, let's look hard at what we did, and let's try to improve where we can – one day to the next.'"
J.K. Dobbins Trusts Run Game Will Be Ready to Go Week 1
J.K. Dobbins found little room to run with three carries for zero yards in the preseason opener, but the Ravens' projected lead tailback isn't concerned about the ground game.
"I think we're at a good spot," Dobbins said. "We're working hard – us and the linemen – and I think when the season comes around, we'll be ready to go. We'll always be physical up front. The guys work hard, and we've got some good O-linemen, so we'll be in the right place at the right time."
While Baltimore's passing attack has been the focus of the offseason, the Ravens need their run game to carry the load and they can't just automatically count on it leading the league again. As Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has said numerous times, it must be re-built each year.
Dobbins had his first fumble of training camp during Wednesday's practice in Carolina. He had two during his rookie season and ball security is something that is being stressed.
"It's just next play – that's what you've got to do," Dobbins said. "You can't always be perfect. Nobody is perfect. So, you can try to be perfect, and that's what I'm chasing – perfection – but I'll never be perfect."
Harbaugh Catches Up With Former Ravens, Thankful for Panthers
Joint practices are a good time to catch up with familiar faces from other teams and players and coaches have done that during the two days in Spartanburg.
"I talked to a lot of their guys after practice and just told them we appreciated it," Harbaugh said. "[I said it was] a good practice [and] appreciate the competition.
Harbaugh specifically caught up with Panthers cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who got his first big break in Baltimore and played two seasons with the Ravens. He's now with his ninth team and is entering his ninth NFL season as an undrafted player out of Northern Illinois.
"A great guy. [We're] appreciative of him and he's appreciative of us," Harbaugh said. "It was a great moment; just to see his smiling face was so good."
Harbaugh also caught up with linebacker Josh Bynes, who had two stays in Baltimore, and former Ravens safety Haruki Nakamura, who played four years in Baltimore (2008-2011) before ending his career with one year in Carolina.
The Ravens and Panthers had the one minor scuffle Wednesday, but overall, they got along very well and Harbaugh said he was thankful for the hospitality and hard work.
"They are a real kind of a high-emotion, high-energy-type team, which is good," Harbaugh said. "It was good for us to deal with. I'm glad we had a chance to do it. It should make us better, and we'll move forward from here. It's just positive."