Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-10 win over the Tennessee Titans in the 2022 preseason opener Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
The Ravens' altered execution-over-physicality training camp bled into the preseason and the early returns were positive. The Ravens rested a whopping 32 players in their 23-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans to open the 2022 preseason. By comparison, the Titans rested 23 players and their starting cornerbacks played much of the first half. It's another indication of Harbaugh's proclivity to do as much as he can to keep his players healthy after a 2021 season lost to injuries. Harbaugh has always rested many of his starters, but 32 players took the precaution to another level.
Harbaugh also viewed the ease-in approach as a chance to put more emphasis on execution, and for the most part, it was sharp. There were a couple missed tackles on a long run, a coverage misunderstanding on a long pass completion, a missed tackle that led to a touchdown, and a few holding penalties. But there were way more positives to point to on this night, which is notable with so many backups and backups to the backups suiting up. Baltimore's record-setting preseason winning streak, dating back to 2015, moved to 21 games. And best of all, the Ravens didn't suffer any serious injuries.
Isaiah Likely has been the darling of Ravens training camp. His NFL game debut confirmed that our eyes are not deceiving us. Every year, there are practice all-stars who don't transfer it to games. That's not Likely. He started his night by juking the shorts off a couple Titans defenders, then made a 22-yard leaping grab by plucking a pass over a defender's head. The rookie fourth-round pick finished with four catches for 44 yards. This week, Harbaugh said Likely is "going to be a big part of the offense this year." Sign me up.
Likely didn't get out of his first game without some homework, however. He has some blocking technique to clean up, as he was called for two holding penalties and could've had a third on Tyler Huntley's fourth-down run. The Ravens knew they were getting a tight end more in the Mark Andrews mold than Nick Boyle when they drafted Likely, but he must be a proficient blocker to be trusted in a variety of different offensive packages. The willingness is there, and blocking can be taught a whole lot easier than the knack for getting open and making plays that Likely so clearly possesses.
First-round pick Kyle Hamilton had an uneven first night. The good? On his fourth NFL defensive snap, Hamilton pounced on a fumble and celebrated with his teammates. Hamilton ate up ground out there, displaying the range and athleticism that made him the 14th-overall pick. The not-so-good? The Titans scored their first touchdown when rookie quarterback Malik Willis spun out of Hamilton's free edge blitz and scampered into the end zone. Hamilton also overran a long Titans run in the first half. Willis is going to make a lot of defenders miss in his NFL career and Hamilton is honing his blitzing skills. He didn't have a sack in college. Overrunning both plays seems to indicate a rookie that got a little overzealous in his first NFL game. I'm not too worried about it.
The Ravens gave veterans Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark the night off. It's clear who the starters are at this point. Hamilton is learning and working his way into a versatile and important role in the Ravens defense. But even though he was a draft steal and Baltimore's highest draft pick since Ronnie Stanley in 2016, Hamilton still needs time to develop. The tools are all there, and so is the professionalism.
Baltimore's top three wide receivers – Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II – have proven enough that they were given the night off. That gave Tylan Wallace and other young players the floor to show what they've got. Wallace was hurt (knee sprain) early on a jet sweep and the undrafted rookies filled the void. Shemar Bridges stepped to the front with a spectacular 14-yard touchdown on a jump ball fade and a contested leaping 35-yard catch later. In the Ravens' roster competition, Bridges offers the most variance as the tallest wideout on the roster (6-foot-4). Baltimore was clearly looking for a big receiver after parting ways with Miles Boykin. Bridges could be it, but it's far from over, and Makai Polk (six catches, 43 yards) also had a good night.
While the performance of the Ravens' rookie wide receivers is encouraging, Baltimore's depth at the position is being tested. Harbaugh said Proche is going to miss a week or two with a soft-tissue issue and now Wallace will be dealing with an injury. Duvernay just got back on the practice field after a thigh bruise.
Quick Hits: Tyler Huntley dealt with tendonitis that held him out of most of minicamp, but he didn't show any ill effects. He completed 16 of 18 passes on the night. … You may have to steal rookie Pepe Williams' helmet to get him to stop playing. He dropped a pick-six on the first pass that came his way, showing good instincts as a slot corner. Then he moved to safety in the second half, showing his versatility. … Jordan Stout's booming punts made a penalty that made him re-kick one a positive. The rookie had major hangtime and pinned one punt against the sideline. He's feeling it. … In the running back battle, Justice Hill looks to have the most juice. He was explosive getting to the edge, even though his best carries were called back by holds. … Rookie defensive tackle Travis Jones also lived up to the practice hype, getting a sack in his first game when he tracked Willis down as he scrambled out to the sideline. That's a mighty athletic play for a man his size. ... Baltimore is loaded at safety, but there's no doubt in my mind that Geno Stone deserves a spot on the 53-man roster. Plus, he said he's trying to step into Anthony Levine's special teams role.