As OTAs begin, QB Lamar Jackson (and his contract status) is among the Ravens’ most interesting storylines again – Baltimore Sun
After a five-month wait, the Ravens are finally starting to get back up to speed.
Rookies and veterans alike will report to the team facility at Owings Mills on Tuesday for the first of 10 days of volunteer-run team activities. No “live” contact will be allowed in padless practices, but the Ravens will go from a passing pace to seven-on-seven, nine-on-nine and 11-on-11. Wednesday’s practice will be the first of three open to local media over the next three weeks, providing the best look at the team since its 2021 season ended ahead of the playoffs.
Of course, it’s still unclear how many of the Ravens’ most important players will be in attendance. Some are recovering from injuries. Others prefer to train closer to home as they prepare for the mandatory minicamp in mid-June. And then there’s quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose unique contract situation could lead to a number of outcomes. As the OTAs begin, he’s among the Ravens’ six most interesting people to follow.
The Ravens undoubtedly want Jackson at the OTAs, where he can work on his chemistry with a young receiving corps, help develop rookie center Tyler Linderbaum into a heavier offense, meet the other new faces on the team and maybe… be answering some questions about her off-season sometimes difficult to analyze.
But does Jackson want to participate in voluntary training? And if he does, how much? Jackson showed up for OTAs last year, like almost every quarterback, but the Ravens had already picked up the option in the fifth year of his contract. He is now in the final year of that rookie contract, and there has been no progress in negotiations for a record extension. Until Jackson says otherwise, all signs point to the Ravens placing the franchise tag on the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player after the upcoming season.
General manager Eric DeCosta said after the draft that the Ravens received “great reports” about Jackson’s offseason workouts; he trained with private tutor Adam Dedeaux, whom he worked with last year, as well as a trainer based in South Florida. But if Jackson skips the OTAs, as Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is expected to do, the focus will remain on his contract situation and future in Baltimore, not where he stands for a rebound year.
The 2021 first-round pick’s reaction to seeing first-time wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown traded last month? “All due respect to him…but it was like, ‘It’s my time,'” Bateman recently told Marlon Humphrey on the cornerback team produced show.
This is the offseason to prove it. DeCosta said last month that Bateman “was our first-round guy, and I think he’s going to show you why.” After a groin injury ended his preseason and delayed his NFL debut, he is healthy again. He also has a head start on the team’s returning wide receivers, as well as James Close II, after working with Jackson in pitching sessions this offseason.
As a rookie, Bateman had 46 catches for 515 yards and a touchdown in 12 games. Given the team’s injury situation at cornerback, a stellar performance at OTAs might not mean much to him or projected starter Devin Duvernay. But it would be better than the alternative.
One of the best rookie seasons in the NFL ended on a negative note last year. After posting five sacks, three forced fumbles and 15 quarterback hits in 15 games, Oweh missed Weeks 17 and 18 with a foot injury. The Ravens also missed it, recording just two sacks in total in season-ending losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.
With Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, and Justin Houston still unsigned, Oweh could enter training camp this summer as the team’s top available passer. Coach John Harbaugh said in March that Oweh was “doing great” after shoulder surgery in the offseason and that his recovery “shouldn’t be a problem for training camp.” If he’s healthy enough for the OTAs, that would be a boon not just for his development, but possibly for the offensive line as well.
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The first-round pick looked the part of rookie minicamp: long, lean, flying around the backfield. Now Hamilton will have to level up as he goes from reading undrafted quarterbacks and defending undrafted wide receivers to starting-level talent. He acknowledged earlier this month that the Ravens’ defense is “quite different” from Notre Dame’s, and there’s still a lot to learn. OTAs will teach him even more lessons, from cover shells to field communication.
Hamilton could benefit from Chuck Clark’s presence, but the veteran safety’s future in Baltimore is unclear. With Marcus Williams, another top safety, added to the secondary in free agency, Clark’s once undisputed role in the Ravens’ defense is about to dwindle. If Clark is traded this offseason, Hamilton should take over some of the slack.
Bad weather forced Stout indoors for the only rookie minicamp practice open to reporters, where he worked mostly on his outfit. But with only a slim chance of rain in the forecast on Wednesday, Stout can get back to doing what he couldn’t do earlier this month: crushing punts.
Following Sam Koch’s retirement last week, Stout finds himself in the unusual spotlight for a punter. At least he seems like the type to make good first impressions. Earlier this month, Ravens Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz recalled Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome telling him before a Senior Bowl practice, as they watched Stout “just hit balls”, that he “could be the best player on the field”. A few scouts told Senior Bowl executive Jim Nagy that Stout’s pregame performances last season impressed them.
The fourth-round pick averaged 46.5 yards per punt at Penn State, threw for 12 touchdowns and, according to Pro Football Focus, led the nation in average hang time (4.36 seconds per punt) last year. Stout will enter his first season in Baltimore with help — Koch signed as a special teams consultant — and high expectations.
What will OTAs look like under Harbaugh after one of the most injury-plagued seasons in recent NFL history? Definitely different. Harbaugh said in March the Ravens had “turned every stone” after last year in search of a safer approach. Ravens players didn’t find their first week of the offseason practice schedule to be dramatically different from previous years, but practices might be.
“We’ve changed a lot of what we do,” Harbaugh said at NFL owners’ meetings. “We are going to approach OTAs differently. We’re going to approach training camp, an overall schedule differently in terms of how we progress and in terms of timing practices, how long we’re on the pitch and what we’re doing on the pitch and how we pace the pace practices – and even within practices, what we do early and how we pace the rhythm of our practices. We think we have some very good ideas, and I’m delighted.