Top four takeaways from the first training camp press conference of Ravens HC John Harbaugh
Training camps all around the league have officially opened up this week and while players are getting back to the building for the first time since the season ended for all but the players that have been allowed to rehab at their respective team facilities, coaches and front office official have been back in their offices in a limited capacity for about a month.
On Thursday, Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh met with the media via a virtual press conference for the first in what will be his 13th training camp at the helm of the two-time defending AFC North division champs and he had some updates and thoughtful nuggets to share.
Here are the top four topics that he touched on minus the preview of the competition at right guard and his thoughts on the difficulty of signing veteran free agents amid the global pandemic:
Harbaugh talks about Antonio Brown-
Ravens quarterback and face of the franchise, Lamar Jackson, provided the sports starved media masses with some headline-grabbing material on Wednesday when he stepped to the virtual podium for his first press conference of training camp 2020 and doubled down on his desire to want to play with mercurial free agent wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Jackson threw to the seven-time Pro Bowler on April 1st in an on-field workout, where Brown’s younger cousin and Ravens 2019 first-round pick Marquise Hollywood Brown was also in attendance. He sent the rumor mill buzzing when he told reporters that he is “still hoping” the team brings the elder Brown to Baltimore to line up next to or across from his kinfolk.
His head coach didn’t exactly hop on the bandwagon that the reigning league MVP breathed life into, but he didn’t completely shun the idea or express that the team completely closed the door on a potential signing either.
“I respect him for feeling that way, I respect his opinion on it,” Harbaugh said. “Definitely appreciate hearing how that workout went whenever it was. It was a long time ago now. We’ll look at any and every player at all times. Antonio Brown’s no exception.”
“Decisions will be made. I don’t think he’s even available to be really signed right now, so it’s not really a conversation you have until he’s available to sign. That’s something I’ll have to ask (General Manager) Eric (DeCosta) about, where that stands with the league and the player. But that’s where we stand on that, at least from my perspective.”
Clarification on Jimmy Smith’s role-
The Ravens have what many believe to be the best secondary in the league and a big reason for that is in addition to having a pair of stars and studs in the starting lineup, they have the best depth in the league in both their corner and safety rotation. One of their primary backup defensive backs is veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith who the team selected in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Colorado and resigned to a one-year deal in free agency.
Back in May, Harbaugh told reporters in a virtual presser that the team would experiment with Smith at safety this season but in his Thursday presser, the head coach said that he will still be play corner primarily, albeit in a diverse role that moves all over the lineup.
“He can play outside, he’s learning to play inside, the nickel,” Harbaugh said. “It becomes more of a situational matchup. It kind of blends into what we do defensively. I don’t know if any team has more defensive packages than we do. It’s really not complicated for us the way our defense is organized. Jimmy, if he lines up at safety, it will be for a reason to do a certain specific task or number of tasks.”
“Any kind of big picture transition, saying Jimmy Smith is a safety, that’s not really where we’re going this year. He’s a corner and he’ll play corner. But he could be out there as the first corner, second corner, third corner, fourth corner. We’ll put different groups out there. It just depends on the job we’re asking him to do within the call and the situation.”
Updates on key players returning from injuries-
The Ravens have a handful of players returning from season-ending injuries they sustained before or during the 2019 season in center Matt Skura, nickel corner Tavon Young and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and safety DeShon Elliott. Harbaugh said that he has been encouraged by what he has seen from all three of them in their respective rehab process and the incredible progress they have made.
Skura had been the Ravens starting center since he won the job coming out of training camp back in 2018. He was off to a great start in 2019 before tearing several ligaments in his knee in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams last year.
Despite his experience and pedigree, he will still have to battle to regain his starting spot. He passed his conditioning test with flying colors and is expected to be ready for the start of camp. Harbaugh hasn’t seen him this week year but that’s likely because Skura and his wife are expecting the birth of their child this week.
“I’m optimistic about Matt, I really am. That’s a big plus for us,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll be careful, and we’ll see how he looks and feels. I know he’s worked really, really hard to be ready.”
Young broke out in 2018 and established himself as one of the best nickel corners in the league. The Ravens rewarded him the following offseason with the richest contract ever given to a slot corner at the time he inked his three-year extension worth $25.8 million. A neck injury he sustained in training camp ended his 2019 campaign before it even began but Harbaugh says he’s “100 percent” recovered and hungry to get back on the field and be a key contributor in the Ravens’ topflight secondary.
“Tavon looks great, he’s doing the walkthroughs, he’s been conditioning,” Harbaugh said. “Tavon’s really excited to be back on the field. He told me that yesterday.”
McPhee, like Smith, was brought back on a one-year deal to add depth and veteran leadership to a young team that is poised to contend for a title in 2020. He recorded three sacks and started all seven games that he appeared in until he went down for the year with a torn triceps injury.
Elliott is entering a pivotal third season after struggling to stay healthy in his first two seasons. He suffered a broken forearm in the preseason of his rookie year and last year a knee injury landed him on injured reserve after just six games. He has all the talent to make a difference in Baltimore’s defense, he’ll just need to stay on the field long enough to show it.
“Pernell’s great, he looks super-good. He looks fantastic,” Harbaugh said. “DeShon’s here, he’s working hard, and looks 100 percent.”
Ravens could experiment with multiple running back sets-
The Ravens’ two strongest and deepest position groups on their roster are at defensive back and at running back. Their backfield is so loaded with the likes of Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, and now rookie second-round pick J.K. Dobbins, not to mention the ever-present threat that quarterback possesses, that some have wondered how they plan to get them all on the field this year.
When Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman held the same position for the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, his offense utilizes formations that feature more than one running back in the backfield lined of behind or on either side of the quarterback.
In 2012, his team used pistol and triple-option formations during their run to the Superbowl that year with a dynamic rushing talent at quarterback in Colin Kaepernick and a great stable of backs. We all know how that turned out but hopefully, it works out for the Ravens if and when they make it to the ultimate title game better than it did for the 49ers that year.
When asked if his team would add some similar two-back sets to their offense this year, Harbaugh had this to say:
“We’ll see,” said Harbaugh when posed with the question. “It just depends on what guys can do and what our offensive coaches come up with in their bag of tricks. I think it’s possible. I don’t think it will be a statement foundational type of personnel grouping for us but I think its something that could help us and try to create some plays. Sure.”