Mike Preston’s Ravens observations on rookie TE Isaiah Likely dominating the Cardinals and more


Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely has added some intrigue and possibly a new dimension to the Ravens’ offense.

The fourth-round pick from Coastal Carolina turned in a second strong performance in Baltimore’s 24-17 win against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday night with eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown while playing only the first half.

In two preseason contests, Likely has 12 catches for 144 yards, but maybe the most impressive part of his game is the yards he gets after the catch. He had 53 versus the Cardinals, which doesn’t happen often from a 6-foot-4, 235-pound receiver.

“Everybody wants to be able to catch the ball, but it’s what you can do after that catch,” Likely said. “And that’s something I preach, whether it’s in games or in practice. Just really just getting that burst in practice [and] having that in-game feel, so when I get in the game, it’s not the first time that I’ve ever done it. It’s repetition, it’s consistency.”

The Ravens have worked hard to modify and improve the offense, with emphasis on a two-tight end look because that was the base when quarterback Lamar Jackson was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2019 with tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst.

Likely’s biggest problem is being able to block, an area a lot of young tight ends struggle with during their rookie seasons, but putting him opposite of Andrews will create a lot of problems.

It forces defenses to balance up where it becomes hard to overload a side, and having either Andrews or Likely matched up outside one-on-one creates a lot of mismatches.

Regardless of Likely’s possible impact, the Ravens still need an effective receiver to develop on the outside and open up the middle of the field. The Ravens got a big boost from veteran tight end Nick Boyle, who got in extensive playing time and performed well as a blocker. If he can stay healthy, it just gives the offense another dimension as far as playing power football.

James struggles

In two games, left offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James hasn’t been impressive and he struggled versus the Cardinals against speed and power rushes while in pass protection.

He is fortunate Arizona used outside linebacker Victor Dimukeje (Boys’ Latin) sparingly or he would have been in for a long night.

The Ravens need Ronnie Stanley back as soon as possible and for him to anchor the line in the season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 11.

Catching Webb

Raleigh Webb, from The Citadel, is my favorite little rookie receiver to keep an eye on.

Few talk about him, but he keeps hustling to make the roster. He had two catches for 46 yards, including one for a 38-yard touchdown, and had another reception of about 15 yards nullified because of a penalty.

He is a good blocker in the team’s run-oriented offense and plays well on special teams. He is an ideal candidate for the slot position, and I bet New England coach Bill Belichick or the Los Angeles Rams Sean McVay might take a look at him if he doesn’t make it in Baltimore.

Pass rush potential

Like the Ravens, the Cardinals didn’t play a lot of starters, but there were signs of hope that Baltimore will be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks this season.

Second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh has gotten so much better using his hands and improving hand speed, and the Ravens got some pressure up the middle with rookie tackle Travis Jones.

That’s a huge development for this team. There is a dire need to find a player in the middle of the line who can make a quarterback move or step up in the pocket when dropping back.

The Ravens haven’t had a top pass-rushing tackle since Sam Adams at the turn of the century. Haloti Ngata was effective, but more as a run stopper.

Pepe in position

There are certain defensive players that really do have “a nose” for the ball, and rookie cornerback Demarion “Pepe” Williams is one of them. And he’ll let you know about it when he makes a play; there have been times at practices where he has strutted around at practice like the NBC Peacock.

Williams picked off a Trace McSorley pass and it wasn’t because he made a great play, but because he was right where he was supposed to be in coverage and McSorley threw a bad pass.

As former Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper used to say: “You have to be in a position to be in position.”

That’s Williams.

Phillips’ penalties

Memo to left guard Tyre Phillips: You can’t become a starter with three penalties, two of those false starts and another for being an illegal lineman downfield.

Penalties are a part of the game and some, like pass interference or face masks, are more acceptable, but coaches get irritated by presnap flags. Those are clearly avoidable.

A Stout performance

One of the keys to the Ravens’ success in selecting punters is they at least look like good athletes.

Former Ravens punter Sam Koch was 6-1 and 220 pounds, a former tight end and linebacker at his Nebraska high school. Very seldom did opposing teams return punts for touchdowns against the Ravens because Koch, while a great punter, was also a good tackler and athlete.

New punter Jordan Stout is 6-3, 210 pounds. I don’t know if he is as athletic as Koch was, but there isn’t much body fat on that frame. Against the Cardinals, he averaged 51.3 yards on three punts, including a long of 58.

He can also kick extra points and kickoff.

Time to step up

I wasn’t too impressed with the inside linebacking play of Kristian Welch or Malik Harrison. Harrison, in his third year, got better as the game went on and finished with five tackles.

Another player who seemed to come up late or short was defensive back Brandon Stephens. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness early and allowed a first-down completion on a third-and-long. Later in the game, he had a pass interference penalty that cost the Ravens 37 yards.



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