For Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, Christmas came early when Justin Houston signed with the Ravens this week. Baltimore's biggest weakness was suddenly solved with a proven player.
So how will Houston fit into the defense?
"What is it – 97.5 sacks? I think we can fit those in," Martindale said with a laugh. "We can't wait to get him here and get him rolling. I think that it's going to help us in a whole bunch of different ways. It makes us more flexible."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens have a role in mind for Houston. Part of the assumption is that he won't have to be a three-down linebacker in Baltimore considering there's also physical run-stuffers Pernell McPhee, Odafe Oweh and Jaylon Ferguson in the room. Houston can do what he does best and get after quarterbacks.
But Martindale sees more than just a pass-rushing role off the edge, which Baltimore saw a lot from last year when it traded for Yannick Ngakoue midway through the season.
"[Houston is] another guy that you bring in that has flexibility, just like Jimmy Smith does. Where is he going to line up at?" Martindale said. "So, that's going to be fun as well."
With all that said, Houston was obviously brought to Baltimore to get sacks. He's had 19 over the past two seasons in Indianapolis.
"Some people have a knack of rushing the quarterback, and he's one of them," Martindale said. "His moves, how he studies the game, he knows the tackles that he's going against and what their weaknesses are, so you just can't pinpoint one thing. His power, his speed to power is probably his best move. Long arm, if you will; I don't want to talk technically, but that's another thing that he does well."
Offense Will Not Slow Down for Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson will return to practice Friday or Saturday, but the offense won't start from square one once he's back under center. Jackson will have missed 10 days while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Since then, the offense has steadily been installing and rehearsing more of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's playbook.
Roman spoke last week about opening up more "chapters" of his playbook, and he'll continue that process while Jackson tries to make up for lost time.
"I mean, the train has already left the station," Roman said. "He's in his cabin car right now, but once he gets out of there, the train is down the road. It's going to be a little bit of a game of, 'we're staying on schedule, but these are certain things we need to hit. Especially with these two players, for example. We need to make sure we get these two guys on the same page."
Another key piece of the offense, wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, has been out since the second practice due to a hamstring injury, though he's still at least in the building.
The other balancing act is whether Jackson will be physically ready for a full workload or will need to be ease into action. Roman said that is "really hard to predict right now" and will be day-to-day.
While it will take some juggling, Roman said it's "very realistic" to get Jackson and others up to speed while not slowing down the rest of the operation.
"We still have plenty of time," Roman said. "The first game is not till somewhere, September something. Yes, we have some time, and I think we have enough time. The big thing is to get him healthy, get him right and make sure he's in a good place."
Odafe Oweh Continues to Get Rave Reviews
While the Ravens are eager to get Houston on the field, the first-round rookie continues to look like a player who will also make a sizeable impact this season.
Given his sheer athleticism, it was a given that Oweh would look good in shells and shorts. But even now with the pads on, he's frequently broken into the backfield to get after Ravens quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley.
"I think yesterday was good, today was better, and I just continue to see it climb," Martindale said. "The biggest thing for a rookie is they know the defense; they get lined up; they've still got to play with good technique. And sometimes in the up-tempo type drills, we've just got to get him more disciplined with his technique, as well as all the rookies."
It remains to be seen how the Ravens will work Oweh into the mix, but they already had high hopes for him as a run-stopper who could make his mark on run downs. If Oweh continues to grow quickly as a pass rusher, it won't be long until he's a three-down player. Martindale certainly plans to find ways to use him as a quarterback hunter.
"This kid, he's going to be a good one," Martindale said. "Don't worry about it; we're going to find a ways to get him on the quarterback, because he's going to get there, and he's going to get there really fast. So, I have great hopes for him. I think that he's going to be a great football player for us, and I don't just throw around the word great. I think he's going to be a problem."
Alejandro Villanueva Is 'Making Good Progress' in Transition
One of the players responsible for blocking Oweh most in practice is Alejandro Villanueva, who Baltimore signed this offseason to replace Orlando Brown Jr. on the right side. The two-time Pro Bowler is entering his eighth season, but he's played his entire career at left tackle.
Villanueva has the advantage of going from a very pass-heavy offense in Pittsburgh, where he blocked for an aging quarterback with not much mobility, to blocking in a run-heavy attack manned by Jackson. But Jackson isn't out there right now and Villanueva is still in the swing of learning the altered mechanics of a new spot.
"He's making good progress," Roman said. "He played on the left for so long, so there is a transitional time. The first couple days, the first day [was] a little rusty, [but] the second day was much better. The third day was even better. He's doing a nice job with it. He's a tough guy and a really good football player. So, he'll figure that out with reps. It's takes reps through. That's the beauty of training camp."