The 2019 Ravens got their first taste of playing against another team and came away quite happy.
First of all, Baltimore emerged from two joint practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars without any injuries. Reserve guard Randin Crecelius remains the only Ravens player sitting out. That’s a win.
Beyond that, Head Coach John Harbaugh came away feeling good about the work his team (and the Jaguars) put in.
“We had a great practice against the Jaguars, another great practice – hot, tough, very physical practice on both sides of the ball. We got a lot done. They got a lot done,” Harbaugh said.
“Hats off to [Jaguars Head Coach] Coach [Doug] Marrone and the whole Jaguars organization. I thought they were very classy. Everything was very professional on both sides. We got our work done. We respected one another. It was good.”
As is the case any time there are joint practices, folks are looking to see if any fights break out. It’s hot, two teams are going up against each other rep after rep. It’s bound to happen.
But, as has been the case almost every time Harbaugh’s team has joined with another team for practices, there were no fights.
Tuesday’s Day 2 practice, which was in a more stifling heat than Monday, had a couple of minor scuffles. Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark got into it with somebody during a goal-line drill, leading to a big gathering of players and a lot of jawing. But players were separated pretty quickly and practice resumed without a hitch.
“It’s not all sunshine and roses,” Harbaugh said. “It’s competitive out there. The fact that those didn’t escalate … There were a couple of guys talking on two plays the whole practice. We pretty quickly pulled them apart. Nobody wants to be the first guy to walk away. I thought everyone kept their discipline very well.”
There was a lot of attention on how the Ravens’ reimagined offense would look against Jacksonville’s top-flight defense. After two days, it appeared Baltimore’s offense is in good standing and took steps forward – not backward – when faced with tough competition.
Lamar Jackson looked good both days and made one of his best throws of training camp on Tuesday when he fired a dart to tight end Mark Andrews, who leapt over a Jags defender for a red-zone drill touchdown. Harbaugh said facing the Jaguars’ talented secondary was very beneficial for the Ravens’ quarterbacks.
“You see different defenses. You see different schemes. You see different speeds and talent. Everything is different,” Harbaugh said. “It’s still football, but the nuances of it are different. Every team has its own way of doing things, and it’s so good for the quarterback to see that.”
It was also a good chance for Baltimore to test out its running game. The Ravens kept things fairly bland, but second-year running back Gus Edwards still felt like the ground attack got on track.
“I feel like the run game really came together these last two days and really took a step forward,” Edwards said. “Just getting to hit against other people, see a different front. I think we got some good work in against that new front.”
Check out the action from the first day of joint practices with the Ravens and Jaguars.
Matt Skura Is Emphasizing Clean Snaps
One of the most important, but overlooked, aspects of the offense this year will be its ball handling. In order for the Ravens to run so much misdirection, run-pass option, etc., the ball handling has to be especially crisp.
That all starts with the snap of the ball, which falls on the shoulders of Matt Skura.
Skura must deliver clean snaps to Jackson in order to give him enough time to survey the defense and make the right call. If not, the Ravens could have fumbling issues similar to what they experienced at the beginning of last season’s wild-card playoff loss.
In years past, the Ravens have had an equipment staff member do the snaps for 7-on-7 passing drills. This year it’s been Skura and Bradley Bozeman just to give them additional practice with Jackson.
“That helps to create muscle memory for Lamar and me,” Skura said. “It’s a comfort thing. I think we’ve been really emphasizing it, and it’s been helping a lot.”
A Full Breakdown of Ravens’ Running Back Corps
One of the Ravens’ more intriguing position battles is at running back, where the Ravens have five players that could legitimately make the 53-man roster and three to four spots to fill.
Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill are virtual locks to make the team, leaving Kenneth Dixon, Tyler Ervin and DeLance Turner battling for perhaps one more spot.
First-year Running Backs Coach Matt Weiss broke down each player, and even compared them to “Lion King” characters.
Here’s his summary:
Ingram (Mufasa): “I think he’s probably the most complete back in the NFL in terms of his ability to execute any run scheme, to pass-protect, to run routes out of the backfield, split him out and run routes. There’s not a play in football that you wouldn’t want to run with Mark.”
Edwards: “Gus is probably one of the hardest working players I’ve ever been around. He comes to work every day, and it’s just all business. He does everything that’s asked and then some, and that really pays off. If you’re a fan of old-school Ravens football and a punishing run game and hard work and that’s what you’re about, you should get a Gus Edwards jersey, because that’s what he’s about.”
Hill (Simba): “Every once in a while, he’ll go where we tell him not to. He’ll run into a pack of hyenas on defense. But he has a very bright future with the Ravens, for sure. He’s extremely fast, he can catch the ball. The thing that I’ve been really happy with is he’s really taken to the way we teach pass protection. He’s been very stout, very physical.”
Dixon: “As a runner, the most pure talented guy we have, which says a lot because we have some talented guys. The thing that has hurt him in the past has been a lot of stuff outside of his control. The best ability is availability sometimes, and right now he’s doing a great job just controlling the things he can control.”
Ervin: “Extremely athletic. He’s played receiver in this league, he’s played tailback in this league, I think he could play corner, too. He’s that type of athlete, and his path to making this team is to be the punt returner, and he knows that.”
Turner: “[He] was up on the active roster before Gus and played special teams for us and played well.”