OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The first week of training camp is always exciting. The whole team is back together after some time off following mandatory minicamp, and everyone is ramping up for a season that's right around the corner.
Those opening sessions, though, are just in helmets and shorts; there's only so much to be gleaned from them. It's when the pads come on that you can really get a sense of what's what across the roster.
That day came Monday for the Baltimore Ravens, who donned pads for the first time this summer at the Under Armour Performance Center. Here are some takeaways from the practice, which was the team's fifth of training camp so far:
DL makes presence felt
Gone is veteran difference-maker Calais Campbell (he's now on the Falcons), but the Ravens still have the pieces along the defensive line to clog running lanes and get after the quarterback. The unit showed exactly that Monday, hounding whoever was under center and letting the offense know whenever it made a play.
Leading the charge was fourth-year defensive tackle Justin Madubuike. During an 11-on-11 drill, the Ravens offense started with a short completion from Lamar Jackson to Nelson Agholor. Then Madubuike went to work, recording back-to-back would-be sacks to end the sequence. And that was after he and edge rusher David Ojabo would have brought down Jackson on another third-and-long earlier in the practice.
Associate head coach and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver said after practice that while they "obviously miss Calais," the other players -- Weaver mentioned Madubuike and Broderick Washington along with veterans Brent Urban and Michael Pierce -- are ready to step up and ensure that Baltimore's defensive line continues to be one of the stingiest in the NFL.
"They're hungry, they're chomping at the bit," Weaver said. "They want to show that they can not only pick up the slack, but do more. So, I'm excited about where the group's headed. I love their work ethic, just love their attention to detail. I think it's gonna be a fun year."
Linebackers fly around
The line carried the torch for the defense Monday, but the linebackers certainly played integral roles, namely in bringing the physicality that only comes about once the pads come on. The biggest hit on a ball-carrier came via Patrick Queen, who jacked up Justice Hill to limit the running back to a short reception. In an earlier drill, third-round rookie Trenton Simpson knocked veteran Melvin Gordon back into the rusher who was trying to get around left end. It marked Simpson's second big hit of the session.
And we can't forget about reigning first-team All-Pro Roquan Smith, who gobbled up running backs trying to sneak through the second level and provided solid pass coverage.
Queen said after practice that physicality was the objective Monday, and the linebacker corps certainly flexed their muscles in that area throughout the workout.
"The main focus today was that even if you mess up, mess up 100% being physical," Queen said. "Everything else we can correct in the film room and the classroom, but the main focus of today was to come out in pads Day 1, set the tone and just look to get better from there."
Unheralded WRs make plays
A majority of talk when it comes to the Ravens' wide receiver group is the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. Not far behind is the selection of Zay Flowers with the 22nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Through the first week of training camp, both players lived up to the hype -- and they're big reasons why the offense should be much more dynamic than last season.
It was a quieter day for the duo on Monday, however, allowing other wideouts to step up. Two worth highlighting were veterans Nelson Agholor and Tarik Black.
The Ravens red zone offense really struggled in 2022, but perhaps Agholor's size and contested-catch ability will help the team in that area. It showed in a red zone drill at the end of practice, when on third-and-1, Jackson threw the ball up into the end zone and expected the free agent signing to make a play. Agholor delivered by jumping over Brandon Stephens and then securing the catch for the score.
"He's a pro," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Nelson knows how to play. He's a big, rangy receiver like you saw when he made that catch. He runs routes really well. He's a hard worker, he knows what he's doing and I'm glad we have him."
As for Black, he made the most noise during a 7-on-7 session. Matched up against second-year corner Jalyn Armour-Davis, Black hauled in back-to-back balls for big gains, including a double move that ended with him making the grab down the left sideline and keeping his feet in bounds.
If the Ravens want to be at their best, Beckham and Flowers, as well as Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman, will all need to be contributors. But if any of them underperform or get hurt, Agholor and Black could be counted upon to ensure the attack continues operating at a high level.
- The fans at Under Armour Performance Center absolutely love OBJ. All of the kids were trying to get his attention before practice, chanting his name and asking him to make a catch similar to the impossible grab he had against the Dallas Cowboys as a member of the New York Giants in 2014. Beckham embraced the love, talking to fans, moonwalking in between routes and even making a one-handed grab during wide receiver warmups -- all of which riled up those in attendance. It was a pretty quiet day for Beckham compared to his first week of training camp, but he did make one of the plays of the day in corralling a bobbled pass Marlon Humphrey could have intercepted.
- If you noticed above, I made sure to specify that Patrick Queen had the best hit on a ball-carrier. That's because the best overall hit of the day went to Malik Hamm. The undrafted rookie from Lafayette bulldozed fellow undrafted rookie TyKeem Doss on his way to the quarterback. Multiple Ravens defenders who were on the sideline sprinted onto the field to celebrate Hamm on the play.
- A couple injury updates: Second-year corner Damarion Williams passed his physical and came off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list prior to Monday's practice. He had been nursing an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile, safety Geno Smith limped off the field towards the end of practice with what looked to be an ankle injury. The good news is that Harbaugh said "it didn't look too serious."