Some people have typecast Nick Boyle strictly as a blocking tight end, but not his coaches and teammates.
Along with being a devastating blocker, catching the football is something Boyle does well, and he is preparing to become more involved as a pass-catcher after the trade of Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons.
Boyle had career highs in receptions (31) and receiving yards (321) last season, and he posted the first touchdown catches of his career.
Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews is a dynamic receiver and will remain Lamar Jackson's primary target at tight end. But Boyle has the talent to see his pass-catching role expand, and he got together with Andrews before reporting to get to get some pointers.
"I think I've always been good, but I'm always trying to improve," Boyle said. "I'm trying to learn from Mark in a lot of things. I was trying to learn everything from him from releases, to stems, to how to run certain routes, what he sees. He's just a tremendous player, obviously."
Boyle made a couple of impressive catches during Tuesday's practice, including a leaping grab behind first-round linebacker Patrick Queen, who was very tight in coverage.
Head Coach John Harbaugh was always high on Boyle as a receiver. It was a skillset Harbaugh noticed when the Ravens scouted Boyle in 2015 before making him a fifth-round pick out of Delaware.
"You watch the tape, you watch the Combine, he's always been able to adjust to balls, he's always had good hands. He's always made play in the passing game," Harbaugh said. "I think he's improved. But I don't think he was ever a minus in the passing game. I just don't think he got thrown the ball much in college and he's been blocking so well for us, it kind of takes over the attention."
Andrews and Boyle are the leaders of the tight end group, but three others are competing for a roster spot behind them – undrafted free agent Eli Wolf, Charles Scarff and Jerell Adams.
Asked to describe the competition among Wolf, Scarff and Adams, Harbaugh said, "Those guys are in a real tight race."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman loves using multiple tight end sets, and even with the loss of Hurst, Boyle thinks Baltimore's tight end group can be the deepest and most versatile in football.
"Yeah, we miss Hayden and I hope he does well in Atlanta," Boyle said. "I think it does open a little more doors with the receiving game. But all the other tight ends they brought here are good receivers, too. So, I think there's an open spot for who wants to go in there and grab that, and everyone's been doing a good job competing, learning from [one] another and trying to be the best."
Injury Updates on Wolf and Antoine Wesley
Though his work in practice has been impressive, Wolf suffered an injury near the end of Wednesday's session that was going to be evaluated.
"He had a collision deal where he didn't finish, two plays left in practice," Harbaugh said. "I don't know the extent of that right now. I don't think it's going to be a big, serious thing, but we will see once he gets in the training room with the doctors."
Antoine Wesley, who faces an uphill battle to make the roster at wide receiver, has suffered a shoulder injury that could require surgery, according to Harbaugh.
"That is still being evaluated," Harbaugh said. "I believe he's going to see a shoulder specialist. That (injury) could be a few weeks. Whether he'll need surgery or something like that I really don't know. We'll see where that goes."
Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson missed his third straight practice with an undisclosed injury while wide receiver Chris Moore (broken finger) also did not practice.
Harbaugh Wants Offensive Line Starters Solidified By Aug. 31
As the right guard competition continues, Harbaugh would like to know his starting offensive line by Aug. 31, two weeks before the Sept. 13 season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
D.J. Fluker, Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson are all competing to start at right guard. Matt Skura has returned to action after last year's serious knee injury, and would like to reclaim the starting center spot over Patrick Mekari, who started after Skura was injured.
The coaching staff has been looking at various offensive line combinations in practice, but for the sake of chemistry and continuity, Harbaugh would like to have the starting lineup settled as it gets closer to Week 1.
"The latest would be the game week, that would be the very latest we'd want to have it set," Harbaugh said. "We'd like to have it set before that. Our goal would be the week leading into the game week, which is only a week and a half away. Whether we'll announce it or not, I don't know. We might, we might not."
Rookie Linebackers Are Learning Quickly
It's possible the Ravens will start two rookies at inside linebacker – Queen and third-round pick Malik Harrison. Queen has been targeted to start since the day he was drafted, and Harbaugh said Wednesday that the rookie from LSU is coming along fast.
"I think he's right on schedule," Harbaugh said. "He wants to be right, he really studies, he's very conscientious, and he's a rookie at the same time – without reps in the offseason. So, I would say he's doing really well – better than anticipated, but he's not there yet. He has a lot to learn, and that's going to be the case all year."
Harbaugh is also impressed with Harrison, who was known as a physical linebacker at Ohio State whose strength was stopping the run. Harbaugh said Harrison is also showing agility in pass coverage and on special teams. Harrison knocked away two passes in one-on-one drills Wednesday, including one deep pass intended for Scarff.
"The way he moves and his size, he's really talented," Harbaugh said. "He's a really big person and he moves fluidly and smoothly. He's got great body control. You teach him footwork, he picks it up quickly, whether it's defense or special teams. That's a gift."