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Quiet start to offseason program exactly what Ravens want

Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry walking through the door Monday headlined the start of the Ravens’ offseason program in Owings Mills.

Attendance is voluntary and not all that consequential — no matter what NFL coaches try to say — for the established big-name players who know how to prepare for a season. As discussed ad nauseam over the course of Jackson’s multiyear contract saga, an extended absence from spring workouts is a symptom of a bigger concern rather than a problem itself as long as that individual is ready to go for the season. By the time November and December roll around, no one is calling back to who showed up for April and May workouts. 

Still, you’d rather have your best players in the building than not, especially when they have a reputation for being a workout warrior like the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry. 

“I’m the new guy, so I want to make sure that I show up and I show my team and show this organization I’m here, I’m committed,” said Henry, the four-time Pro Bowl running back who signed a two-year, $16 million contract last month. “I want to come work and want to put the work in and be around my teammates and develop that relationship with them and really just put the work in and work as hard as I can when I’m in the building.” 

As general manager Eric DeCosta noted earlier this month, “the vibe has been good” even as the Ravens work to rebuild their offensive line and add depth at other positions after losing a number of free agents and assistant coaches this offseason. Such challenges are small potatoes compared to an uncertaint future with your star quarterback, however. 

A year ago at this time, there were questions about when — even if — Jackson would step foot in the building, let alone be there for the start of the offseason program in mid-April. A $260 million contract extension and a second MVP season later, Jackson’s physique was the more relaxed topic on social media this week. 

“Lamar coming in on Monday, everybody is talking about being lean,” strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Elliott said Wednesday. “Lamar is in great shape, and what it’s allowing us to do — and I just got done with a training session with him before coming out here — is to add lean muscle on top of it. We did shoulder conditioning today to help him be the elite quarterback that he is. 

“I would say this: I’ve never been more excited in April for Lamar Jackson.” 

Linderbaum leading

Pro Bowl right guard Kevin Zeitler, veteran right tackle Morgan Moses, and starting left guard John Simpson are gone. 

Oft-injured left tackle Ronnie Stanley took a pay cut and now enters a contract year after reworking his once-lucrative deal. 

With such uncertainty along the offensive line, the presence of Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum is more important than ever. It’ll be interesting to see whether the third-year Iowa product takes on a greater leadership role as Baltimore searches for three new starters up front. 

“Anytime you’re going to have experience under your belt [is good], especially Ronnie has been here quite a bit, we’ve got Pat Mekari, and then I’ve gotten two years under my belt in the organization,” Linderbaum said. “We’re going to have guys that are going to have to step up and fill in. I think we have a good group of guys [and] a good coaching staff to be able to help the younger guys and whoever else we add that’s going to step in and play.” 

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Linderbaum will be eligible for a long-term contract extension after 2024 and is already putting himself in position for an elite financial commitment, something that should become even more apparent leading a revamped offensive line this year.

“Stick to what we do” 

Inside linebacker Roquan Smith was another notable attendee this week, and many connected the dots between the two-time Pro Bowl selection’s comments on the Henry signing and Baltimore running backs carrying the ball just six times in last January’s AFC title game loss. 

“I think that’s huge. I think it’s going to make us stick to what we do,” Smith said. “Having a guy like [Henry], anytime you need a play with him and Lamar back there, I think it’s going to be crucial. I’m excited. It’s going to open up a lot for everyone. Going up against the guy, I know what kind of a threat he poses to other defenses. It’s going to be scary.” 

It’s fair to note that most defensive players already prefer an offense that runs the ball and sustains drives to keep the defense fresh and on the sideline longer. Smith may not have even been referencing that loss deliberately, but this is what happens when a highly regarded offense falls on its face on the cusp of going to the Super Bowl. 

Ravens West

Running back J.K. Dobbins officially became the latest ex-Raven to fly west to join the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday. 

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Having missed 2 1/2 seasons in the last three years because of injuries, Dobbins will reunite with former Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman — which should be interesting — as well as fellow backfield mate Gus Edwards. It’s a shame a 25-year-old who’s averaged an impressive 5.8 yards per carry in his NFL career has dealt with such rotten injury luck, so you hope Dobbins benefits from a fresh start elsewhere.

Former Ravens executive and new Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz hasn’t hesitated to lean into his Baltimore roots this offseason, also adding tight end Hayden Hurst, center Bradley Bozeman, and fullback Ben Mason. Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh also hired several former Ravens assistant coaches in addition to Roman, a list including Marc Trestman, Jesse Minter, Andy Bischoff, and Mike Devlin. 

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