The spring can be a great fooler, which is why there isn’t too much to take away from the Ravens concluding mandatory minicamp and the offseason program last week.
To describe offseason workouts as meaningless would be disrespectful to the players and coaches who logged extensive hours in Owings Mills this spring to begin preparing for the 2022 campaign, but what reporters observe over a handful of open workouts is unlikely to move the needle. Some young players look like budding stars in the spring before disappearing by the time the threat of contact arrives in early August. Meanwhile, others go from being invisible to looking like real players when the pads come on.
Two-time Pro Bowl selection and sixth-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey said it best when asked his opinion of first-round rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, who impressed him this spring.
“I’m excited to put the pads on and to actually see what he really can do,” Humphrey said. “Everybody can look good in shorts and a t-shirt, so I’m excited for him and all of the other guys that I think are going to be a really big help to us this year — those rookies and some of those new signings — when we put it all together.
“As we do these minicamp days, it’s just getting closer and closer to training camp and time to see what team we’ll be, what our mindset will be, what standard will we play with. I’m really getting excited for all of that.”
With that important caveat applying to unproven youngsters or even some veterans trying to keep their grip on a roster spot, below are eight spring standouts to watch when the pads come on during training camp:
WR Rashod Bateman
The 2021 first-round pick had some uneven showings earlier in the spring before raising his play when star quarterback Lamar Jackson arrived for mandatory minicamp. That said, his appearance on this list is much more about his importance to the passing game and his relative lack of work with Jackson after both missed substantial action at different points last season.
“He’s running great routes [with] a lot of his releases and everything,” said two-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews about Bateman. “He’s getting open at the line super, super quick. And then, he’s got a burst of speed that people don’t really talk about. And again, second year, he’s a guy that’s just going to get better, better, and better. The sky’s the limit for him.”
The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Bateman flashed plenty of potential as a rookie, but he needs to stack practice reps — he missed roughly two months after undergoing groin surgery last August — and show he can consistently be “the man” at the position when the intensity increases. If not, concerns at wide receiver will feel much more like a crisis as Week 1 approaches.
S Kyle Hamilton
The 14th overall pick of this year’s draft looked the part making plays on the ball and being active in the secondary, but the bar is high with the Ravens having so much depth at safety, especially if veteran starter Chuck Clark stays put in 2022.
His 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame — complete with the “go-go gadget” arms described by secondary coach Chris Hewitt — immediately stands out, so it’s just a matter of Hamilton getting more comfortable as the competition intensifies this summer. We’ll also get a better idea of how his physicality plays when the pads come on.
“With any rookie and the young guys, the challenge for them is keep finding new stuff to screw up,” defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said last month. “There are a couple things that have happened over the first few days, but he’s gotten them corrected. With the rookies, it’s a lot, because it’s something new every day, so you’re trying to learn the new things and fix the other things.
“He’s right on schedule, but we don’t tell him that [and] try to provide some sense of urgency for him. But he’ll get there. I’m really pleased with Kyle.”
C Tyler Linderbaum
First-round picks — like Hamilton — have generally deferred to veterans in the spring and early summer throughout the John Harbaugh era, which is why it was telling to see the 25th overall pick from Iowa take all of the starter reps in open spring workouts without any evidence of a real competition with Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman admitted the goal has been to throw so much at Linderbaum “to have him laying in bed shaking every night worried about the next thing,” but he seemingly passed the earliest tests with few concerns.
Of course, how a center perceived to be undersized holds up in the midst of full-contact work against 345-pound nose tackle Michael Pierce remains to be seen, but Linderbaum garnered praise in different ways.
“I threw an interception yesterday, and Daelin [Hayes] was taking it back to the house the other way,” Jackson said last Thursday. “I was kind of paused, talking to [Devin Duvernay] during the play. And my center, Tyler, was getting after it. He was running him down. I just saw he’s fast. He’s fast as heck for a center. I have never seen a center run like that. He’s a football player.”
S Tony Jefferson
We’ve obviously seen Jefferson practice in pads plenty over the years, but his career appeared to be circling the drain last December before the injury-ravaged Ravens re-signed him to their practice squad. He followed up his solid late-season play with a good spring that included two interceptions of Jackson last week and plenty of reps in sub packages.
A 30-year-old backup who hasn’t played extensively on special teams since early in his career can’t be considered a lock in such a crowded and young group, but a strong summer should leave him in excellent shape, especially if Clark is moved between now and September.
“He looks like the Tony Jefferson that we signed [in 2017],” Hewitt said. “Tony brings a lot of energy and … a lot of experience. He’s a leader, and he brings all the other guys together. He talks to anybody on the team, including the kicker. I’m really happy with Tony being here. We’ll see what happens going forward, but I love having Tony around.”
TE Isaiah Likely
Taking nothing away from fellow fourth-round rookie tight end Charlie Kolar, who had his own moments this spring, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Likely made more standout plays, including a couple one-handed grabs during minicamp. That upside becomes even more interesting with his reputation of being more of a “tweener” and the lack of depth at wide receiver.
“Isaiah has a little knack. He can do a lot of things unscripted as a receiver, and I think that he’ll continue to develop in the other phases of the offense,” Roman said. “They’re definitely chess pieces and we’ll see how it all fits together. It could be pretty interesting.”
CB Damarion Williams
Jalyn Armour-Davis practiced as advertised in terms of potential as an outside corner, but the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Williams was as versatile as they come at the collegiate level and practiced with a spirit fans should enjoy watching this preseason. Now it’s just a matter of how the undersized defensive back’s toughness exhibited at Houston will translate at the next level.
“He might not be the fastest and he might not be the biggest, but I guarantee you the kid has got the biggest heart and he’s a good football player,” said Hewitt, who isn’t one to hype unproven players. “I always bet on good football players to go out there and do their job. That kid plays with great energy, and he’s going to make us better as a team. I really love the kid, and I think he’s going to have a great future.”
RB Tyler Badie
The sixth-round rookie looked exactly like someone who caught 126 passes and 11 touchdowns over four seasons at Missouri, even catching a slick touchdown from Jackson with starting inside linebacker Patrick Queen in coverage on the final day of minicamp.
“He’s quick and fast out of the backfield. He’s got really natural hands, catches the ball clean, so I think that potential exists, but you also like him as a runner,” director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said last month. “You don’t want to just pigeonhole him as a third-down back because you watch him run inside and you watch him bounce and cut things up into the teeth of the defense. He runs with good pad level and balance and determination.”
We’ll see if the latter part of that assessment holds up when the pads come on, but Badie drew unsolicited praise from Harbaugh last week for his receiving ability, which should help his chances if Baltimore wants to use its backs as receivers more frequently.
OLB Daelin Hayes
The 2021 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame was a prime example last year of someone who flashed often in the spring and early in camp before fading and playing just four snaps as a rookie because of injuries. That’s not to suggest Hayes won’t make an impact after showing some skill off the edge and even intercepting a Jackson pass during minicamp, but Harbaugh’s assessment of his spring alluded to that history.
“All those guys, they’re flashing and they’re showing some good things,” said Harbaugh said about Hayes and the other edge defenders. “The next step will be training camp [and] getting to the quarterback — as much as we allow them to — when the pads come on and then in the games and all that. But he’s flashed. He knows the defense, he’s very confident out there right now, and there are a lot of guys like that.”
Hayes and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Fergusion should receive plenty of reps to prove they should be part of the 53-man roster and an outside linebacker rotation that appears tenuous with Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo still rehabbing Achilles injuries.