The first practice of training camp on July 26 is fast approaching. Before players and coaches return to the Under Armour Performance Center, here are my observations on the Ravens, all in 50 words or less:
I expect the Ravens to have a top five defense in 2023. They haven't been in the top five in yards allowed since being ranked No. 4 in 2019. However, having Roquan Smith from Week 1 will be huge, and the unit should gel faster in Mike Macdonald's second year as coordinator.
Make sure you listen to outside linebacker David Ojabo's engaging interview on an upcoming edition of "The Lounge" podcast next week. Ojabo can't wait to chase down opposing quarterbacks after missing most of his rookie season with an Achilles injury.
Ojabo blossomed when Macdonald was the defensive coordinator at Michigan, and he's thrilled they've been reunited in Baltimore. Ojabo and Odafe Oweh's performances will be critical to the pass rush.
Staying with defense, tackle Broderick Washington posted workout pictures on Instagram, showing he's putting in serious work prior to training camp. The Ravens will be counting more heavily on Washington and Justin Madubuike to control things up front, and both looked impressive at minicamp.
Madubuike is a strong candidate to be Baltimore's breakout player on defense. He had career-highs in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hits (nine) last year and figures to play more snaps. He's in a contract year and he's still improving. That's a good combination.
The Ravens are in a much better position health-wise heading into training camp than they were last year. You can't predict what might happen moving forward, but the Ravens are due for a season where injuries are less of an issue.
I expect Lamar Jackson to have an MVP caliber year. He has a deeper group of receivers and I think Todd Monken's system will create more big play opportunities. It's been a great offseason for Jackson. I think it's the prelude to a great 2023 season.
That was a nice gesture for Odell Beckam Jr. and Zay Flowers to attend Jackson's annual Fun Day in Pompano Beach, Fla. Their connection off the field bodes well for what they will accomplish on the field.
Training camp and the preseason will be critical for any Ravens cornerback not named Marlon Humphrey or Rock Ya-Sin. Beyond those two, a significant role in the defense isn't guaranteed for any cornerback. The battle for playing time should be intense.
Until Justin Houston signs elsewhere, I'll continue to believe he'll be back in Baltimore. I'm not worried about the Ravens' pass rush yet, but it's hard to ignore that Houston led the team with 9.5 sacks last season. His return would be welcomed.