Young Players Get More Reps By Design


During a scrimmage on the first day of the Ravens' mandatory minicamp last month, the first-team defense lined up for a play with its familiar veteran faces in their usual places -- Terrell Suggs at outside linebacker, Brandon Williams in the middle of the interior, Daryl Smith behind Williams, etc.

But who was that other inside linebacker lined up next to Smith?

Media members attending the minicamp squinted to see the player's uniform number, then checked their rosters. It was Zachary Orr, a second-year linebacker who performed mostly on special teams in 2014 after making the roster as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas.

Orr ran with the first team on a handful of plays during the minicamp, and he wasn't the only younger player to receive such an opportunity. At almost every position, backups had chances to run with the starters.

"Our young guys probably get more reps than I can imagine anybody else getting," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

At different times during the three days of practices, every receiver on the depth chart lined up opposite Steve Smith Sr. on the first-team offense. Cornerbacks such as Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin and Tray Walker ran with the defensive starters, as did tackle Kapron Lewis-Moore.

It's all part of Harbaugh's plan to get the most out of the NFL's spring season of Organized Team Activity practices and minicamps, which he views as a chance to bring the team's younger players along. They practice not only with the second- and third-team units, but also the starters.

"We put our young guys in positions to compete for jobs" in training camp, Harbaugh said.

At last month's minicamp, several younger Ravens ran with the starters because of injuries. With starting center Jeremy Zuttah still out as he recovers from offseason surgery, John Urschel, normally a backup guard, became the No. 1 center.

"John has been great," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I didn't really think that we skipped a beat with him in there this offseason. Obviously, it will be nice to get Jeremy back."

Along the same lines, Orr received his opportunity in part because starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is also coming off surgery.

But many of the younger players who received opportunities were just being given a shot to show what they can do, starting with the team's top draft picks in 2015, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams.

Perriman smiled when asked how he felt about being given a shot to run with the starters, backups and even the third teamers – all in the same practice.

"They're working me," he said. "It's good work. I'm getting used to it. [It is] great conditioning and I'm glad I'm taking the reps that I'm taking now."

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