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Twelve Ravens Thoughts counting down to start of training camp

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With rookies reporting to Owings Mills this weekend and the Ravens starting full-team training camp practices in under two weeks, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Aside from the 2018 Hall of Fame Game summer, this is as early as the Ravens have reported — calendar-wise — in years with the first practice taking place July 21. That’s quite a long stretch until the Sept. 5 opener, especially for those starters who don’t play in any preseason games.

2. This will mark the fifth straight year that the Ravens enter training camp with clear-cut outside expectations of playing deep into January. But that success is also a burden when anything short of a championship feels like a disappointment. It truly is Super Bowl or bust at this point.

3. This dead time until camp is ripe for the same old Lamar Jackson discourse. It’s not difficult to recognize the two-time MVP as both a tremendous quarterback and someone needing to break through in January. Dan Marino heard it. So did John Elway and Peyton Manning. Heavy is the crown.

4. With Kyle Hamilton becoming an All-Pro safety and ex-Raven Geno Stone leading the AFC in interceptions last season, you sense Marcus Williams wants to remind why Baltimore signed him to a $70 million contract a couple years ago. That starts with staying healthy after missing 13 games in two seasons. 

5. Eric DeCosta struck a deal with Arthur Maulet on the eve of last year’s report date and signed Jadeveon Clowney, Ronald Darby, and Kyle Van Noy weeks later. In other words, this roster is hardly final. A veteran safety, an edge rusher, or another offensive line addition wouldn’t be surprising.  

6. Patrick Mekari is entering the final season of a $15.45 million contract that’s been good value for someone who has made 36 career starts and can play every offensive line position. If the soon-to-be 27-year-old is pressed into further starting duty this fall, he could have a good free-agent market.

7. Though the Ravens rarely ever go full contact to the ground, I look forward to that first collision between Derrick Henry and Roquan Smith. As the All-Pro linebacker remarked about the 247-pound running back last month, “When he puts his pads on, that’s when he becomes that demon.” 

8. Henry’s signing generated more buzz, but re-signing Justin Madubuike was the best move of the offseason. Though the 26-year-old may not duplicate his 13-sack output, having that kind of interior presence goes a long way in easing concerns on the edge. The spine of this Baltimore defense remains very strong.

9. A rookie free agent has made the Ravens’ pre-Week 1 roster in 19 of the last 20 years, so safeties Beau Brade (Maryland) and Jordan Toles (Morgan State) and inside linebacker Yvandy Rigby (Temple) top the list of undrafted candidates I’m watching. However, the pads sometimes bring out surprise contenders.

10. I suppose it’s never too early to start complaining about NFL officiating, so this penalty analysis piece from Sharp Football offers some interesting food for thought going into the new season. Duplicating the 2023 lack of penalties on third down will be key to Baltimore’s success in close games. 

11. I’m reminded at this point in the summer how much of the offseason chatter ends up not mattering much. The status of J.K. Dobbins was a hot topic last July, and his Week 1 Achilles injury quickly made him a forgotten man. You never know what’s going to happen.

12. All available training camp passes were claimed in less than 10 minutes Wednesday, reflecting fan enthusiasm for the 2024 season. However, that exercise in scarcity always reminds me of the days of being able to make a spontaneous trip to Westminster to watch the Ravens practice. Such experiences are missed. 

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