An impressive deep-ball connection between Lamar Jackson and Sammy Watkins was one of the highlights of Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practice.
Jackson lofted a pass down the sideline that traveled more than 50 yards. Watkins accelerated as he tracked the ball in the air, snared the pass with his fingertips and cradled it into his arms without breaking stride.
It looked like Jackson and Watkins had been teammates for years, and it's the kind of play they hope to make often this fall. Since Watkins signed as a free agent in March, the veteran receiver has made it a priority to build chemistry with Jackson.
He joined the Ravens' quarterback for several days of workouts in Arizona along with Mark Andrews, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and J.K. Dobbins. Then Tuesday and Wednesday at mandatory minicamp, Watkins had two strong days of practice, and Jackson is clearly pleased to have Watkins as a new target.
"A big receiver, a nice target, fast guy," Jackson said. "Sammy's going to make our job a lot easier, open up one side of the field more, his deep ball ability, shiftiness and route running. He's a great receiver. I just can't wait until we start going for real."
Watkins has seven years of NFL experience playing for three different teams. However, every offense has unique qualities, and Watkins has spent OTAs and mandatory minicamp getting a feel for how he'll be utilized in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's attack. Moving from the Kansas City Chiefs' offense to Baltimore's is an adjustment, but the faster Watkins feels comfortable, the quicker he can run routes without hesitation.
"Honestly, I've played in numerous offenses, but this one is very complex," Watkins said. "It's a lot of motion, a lot of moving around. Greg can put you in a lot of different places, and honestly, I'm learning from the young guys right now. They're kind of helping me, putting me in certain spots, and I'm learning certain routes from them, so hats off to those guys. I think that's the most critical thing – to learn the offense to where I can play fast, block and do all the things I can do on the field."
Head Coach John Harbaugh has been impressed watching Watkins make plays on a consistent basis during practices. Training camp is still more than a month away, but the Watkins is making the transition to a new team look seamless so far.
"He's a veteran player so he knows how to pace himself up to the season," Harbaugh said. "You can see him doing that. That's what you look for. He's right on schedule. He and Lamar are getting the groove a little bit, too. Very happy with Sammy, very excited about him."
Bradley Bozeman Knows His Snapping Will Be Scrutinized
Snapping the ball to Jackson accurately was an issue at times last season, including during a playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, when Jackson suffered a concussion while being tackled recovering an errant snap.
Bradley Bozeman's switch from left guard to center will put his snaps to Jackson in the spotlight. Not all of Bozeman's snaps were perfect Wednesday, and Harbaugh smiled when the subject came up.
"I'm always on him. We got a thing around here about snaps, don't we all, from last year?" Harbaugh said. "We're going to be looking at those snaps. If he's just a little low, a little high, it's like 'Boze!' He's all over it. He's done great. It looks very natural."
Bozeman embraces the challenge of snapping to Jackson in the pistol formation, and a good portion of Bozeman's offseason time has been spent practicing his snaps.
"A ton," Bozeman said. "Since I've been here, we've always stayed after and snapped. We've always stayed up on our snaps, just made sure everyone was ready for that opportunity when it became available."
Harbaugh Gives Positive Update on Several Injured Players
Harbaugh said he was optimistic that any players who missed mandatory minicamp due to injury would be ready for training camp in July, including Nick Boyle, Pat Ricard, Ronnie Stanley and Iman Marshall.
"They might be ready the first day, we might want to wait a couple of days and get them moving around doing football things to make sure," Harbaugh said. "If anything, we're probably going to err on the side of caution the first couple of days. I'm not not optimistic about any of them. I expect them all to be back and playing."
Harbaugh said Tuesday that he expected Stanley to return at some point in training camp as well, and that Stanley was expected to be in the lineup Week 1.
Lamar Calls Vaccine Shot a Personal Decision
Jackson did not say whether he had been vaccinated or not when asked Wednesday, and emphasized that it was a personal decision. Jackson contracted COVID-19 last season and missed one game against the Pittsburgh Steelers when the Ravens were dealing with an outbreak of the virus.
"Just like everyone in society, it's their decision, keeping that to themselves," Jackson said. "I feel we do a great job here, taking the vaccine, staying away from COVID, staying away from the outside. We just have to keep it going. I haven't been hearing about any breakouts. I feel like everyone's been doing a great job, just keep it going."
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to updated COVID-19 protocols for 2021 training camp and preseason, which will have drastically different requirements for fully vaccinated players versus unvaccinated players.