The Ravens practiced before 28,000 fans last night. Never Easy, Never Pretty was there to capture the festivities. Practice included 14 components such as “mock situations” and “battles” and proceeded at a rapid pace. Gerry Sandusky provided context and explanation along with his colleagues Qadry Ismael and Stan White. Ray Lewis made an appearance, saying to the crowd, “I gave everything I had to the city of Baltimore.” A new Lewis statue will accompany Johnny Unitas at the end of Ravenswalk.
1. The running backs performed well
“He could have a breakout year,” said Wayne Groff of Hanover, PA after Ray Rice broke free into the secondary before being run out of bounds. A trimmed down Rice looked agile and fast in simulated game situations last night. The crowd cheered when he appeared on the Jumbotron and as he headed into the Russell Street end zone. Bernard Pierce ran very well last night and looks like the favorite to start during the Rice suspension. He roared through openings. Justin Forsett also showed bursts of speed and elusive cuts. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro ran with power on several plays. Fitzgerald Toussaint is my favorite name from this group.
2. The defensive line packs a wallop and the linebackers are athletic
DeAngelo Tyson and Tim Jernigan played last night like a pair of wrecking balls. They blasted into the backfield and crushed offensive linemen. Pernell McPhee also looked formidable. Haloti Ngata sports a leaner frame this year. We have depth in the defensive trenches. Suggs has been abusing offensive linemen and charged through the line for a sack last night. Courtney Upshaw is bigger and more imposing and the rookie C.J. Mosley made some athletic plays.
3. It will be tough to make this squad as a receiver
Based on last night’s practice, Steve Smith will be the Ravens #1 receiver. He caught almost every pass thrown to him – including many one-handed during drills. Asa Jackson couldn’t cover him. With Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown and Steve Smith already in place, it will be tough to make this unit. LaQuan Williams made a spectacular catch last night. Another receiver, a tall and lanky Kamar Aiken showed flashes. If he makes the team, remember his name.
Rookie Michael Campanaro, the Wes Welker clone, almost caught a ball down the sideline that would have been the play of the night. Campanaro ran kickoffs back with a stealthy quickness. Deonte Thompson did not do much last night. The tight ends are impressive. Owen Daniels made some nice catches. Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gilmore also looked sharp.
Coach Kubiak was the center piece in the drills. Receivers were making cuts in front of him and he was watching every move. The offense is coming – with slants and quick hitters and passes to running backs in the mix much more than ever before. Flacco was sharp and seemed comfortable in the up tempo. Tyrod Taylor threw some nice deep balls and also looks well-adjusted to the new scheme.
4. Secondary needs to be solidified
Overall, Asa Jackson looked pretty good last night except for a few snaps when he lined up opposite Steve Smith. Not as big as our other corners, he’s an aggressive ball hawk looking to cause fumbles and deflections and has an early edge to start it seems over Chykie Brown. Dominique Franks made some nice stops. Matt Elam had an interception. Jimmy Smith delivered some nice hits including a leveling of Steve Smith on one play. The defensive line and linebackers are the foundation of the defense. We need to shore up the secondary.
5. We have more weaponry than last year on both sides of the ball and…
on our kicking team. After missing from 64 yards, Justin Tucker nailed two 58 yarders and the last one would have been good from 70. Tucker is a rock star. He was amazing.
You look around and there is no Tandon Doss, Ed Dixon or Michael Oher. We have upgraded in their absence. On the defensive side of the ball, there are a number of guys who can make plays like Daryl Smith, Josh Bynes and Arthur Brown. There’s Lardarius Webb and Darian Stewart. On offense, you also have Kyle Juscyczk who looks like he will play some fullback and catch some passes a la Tom Rathman.
Overall, the defense still dominated the offense. They won the competition by getting more stops. After the offense made a big gain, the defense responded by stopping them in their tracks. The offensive line showed signs of improvement. There were no collapses in the middle of the line. On one play, Flacco had at least 5 seconds to find a receiver. He threw the ball away. He wasn’t used to having that much protection. On another play, Steve Smith was open on a post route. Flacco threw in the opposite direction and Smith was pissed.
The offense will have a swagger before it’s over.