Mike Preston’s Ravens observations on a versatile offensive line, rookies getting in shape, a Kyle Hamilton comparison and more



The Ravens have a lot of flexibility on the offensive line, but it’s hard to determine how good this group can be.

The Ravens have so far had three weeks of voluntary practice and a few days of mandatory minicamp, so it’s a good time to experiment.

They have shuffled a lot of players around, which allows them to be creative in case of injuries. On Tuesday, Ja’Wuan James started at left tackle with Morgan Moses on the right side. A day later, they flipped positions and played reasonably well.

The new tandem is more athletic than last year’s starter Alejandro Villanueva, who struggled with speed rushers.

The Ravens also have to settle on a starting guard combination. Kevin Zeitler can be penciled in at right guard, but both Tyre Phillips and Ben Powers have started on the left side with Ben Cleveland as a third option.

Rookie Tyler Linderbaum, the second of two first-round draft picks in April, has been starting at center, but the team has ample replacements in Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon.

Regardless, this appears to be a hard-working group. Run blocking is expected to be their forte once again, but they are already better pass blockers than they were a year ago. The Ravens allowed a team-record 57 sacks last season.

Now, if Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley can return healthy from an ankle injury he suffered nearly a year and a half ago, this line has potential. Quarterback Lamar Jackson might become one of the happiest people in Baltimore.

Rookies not ready yet

It’s puzzling why rookies show up to these minicamps out of shape.

In some cases, they still have one semester of school left, so they can’t work out like pro players. But a lot of these rookies leave school early so they can train for the NFL scouting combine, their school’s pro day and offseason activities.

Two of the Ravens’ top rookies need to report in better shape when training camp opens in late July.

Daniel Faalele, the 6-foot-8, 380-pound offensive tackle out of Minnesota who was drafted in the fourth round, struggled through practice again Wednesday.

Not only was he slow and methodical, but he indicated when the Ravens were going to pass or run. When he carried a “light stick,” or leaned back in his stance, it was a pass.

Faalele can be labeled a project, much like outside linebacker Odafe Oweh was last year, but Oweh had much more skill and a stronger motor as a rookie.

Rookie Travis Jones, the 6-4, 327-pound defensive tackle selected in the third round out of Connecticut, has also struggled with conditioning.

With Michael Pierce out for a “personal matter” and the Ravens reaching a contract settlement with injured veteran Derek Wolfe, Jones started Wednesday, but he was clearly tired early in the 2 1/2-hour practice.

Fortunately, both Jones and Faalele will get about six weeks to improve their conditioning for training camp, which should be more than enough time.

Twice as nice

The Ravens are doing some neat little things with this two-tight end offense, especially with the combination of 6-6, 250-pound rookie Charlie Kolar and veteran Mark Andrews.

Not only will the formation force opposing defenses to respect both the run and the pass, but it could lead to some mismatches with linebackers forced to cover one of the tight ends one-on-one.

The wheel route from Jackson to Andrews on Wednesday resulted in an 18-yard touchdown, leading to a celebration with Kolar in the end zone. There should be more to come.

Offense up and down

Jackson’s touchdown pass to Andrews came early in the practice, but the offense got ragged in the second half.

Jackson appeared to get tired and threw behind and low to his intended receivers. Linderbaum also struggled with a couple of snaps out of the shotgun formation.

It was hot and humid and the Ravens started practice at 1:30 p.m. The heat took its toll.

Bateman looking better

Since Jackson started practicing with the team Tuesday, his return seems to have inspired second-year receiver Rashod Bateman.

In the previous three practices open to the media, Bateman would occasionally drop passes, including some short ones across the middle.

But it’s been different with Jackson on the field. On Wednesday, they connected on a beautiful 65-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline.

Running back battle

One of the top battles in training camp will be at running back between fourth-year player Justice Hill and rookie Tyler Badie.

The Ravens are looking for a pass-catching threat out of the backfield behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and so far Badie has had no equal. But Hill has been a standout on special teams, which could earn him a spot on the roster.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Ravens kept four running backs, perhaps stashing Badie on the practice squad. But that might be hard to do if he plays well in the preseason.

Hamilton in good company

Two of the things you notice quickly about rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, the team’s top pick out of Notre Dame, is his size and his easy movements.

The 6-4, 220-pound defensive back never looks tense, remaining loose and limber. He has a similar style to Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed.

Now, don’t get carried away here with any other comparisons. Reed always had that easy-going demeanor and that long, loping stride.

Hamilton always looks like he is tired, but he covers so much ground so quickly. He might make mistakes, but there is no indecision.

While on the subject of safeties, veteran Tony Jefferson has performed well in these practices, though the Ravens are loaded at the position. I thought his career was pretty much over in February 2020 when the Ravens released him.

Odds and ends

>> Rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo spent a good portion of practice speaking with team owner Steve Bisciotti. Ojabo fits the description of a top pass rusher. His body is thick but well-defined, and the kid has an assortment of moves.

>> Bateman, quarterback Tyler Huntley and outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson battled injuries Wednesday, but none were serious. All appeared healthy at the end of practice.

>> Maybe the most impressive outside linebacker in these open practices has been second-year player Daelin Hayes, who intercepted a pass over the middle Wednesday when Jackson panicked while being blitzed. He has been more impressive as a pass rusher.

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