Every red-zone trip last season was an adventure for the Ravens. They finished 30th in the NFL in touchdown rate inside the 20-yard line, and the last time they got close, in a playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they watched quarterback Tyler Huntley all but give the game away.
Maybe all the Ravens needed was more Andy Isabella.
The former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, who joined the Ravens’ practice squad in October and had no catches in two games, was an unlikely star of Wednesday’s practice. The 5-foot-9 Isabella had maybe the best play from the first two days of mandatory minicamp, beating 5-8 defensive back Ar’Darius Washington on a 50-50 jump ball for a touchdown in 11-on-11 action. Later, he caught a quick hitter on a designed rollout in a congested area for another score.
The former second-round pick almost had one of the longest plays of the day, too. But, after speeding past defensive back Brandon Stephens on a vertical route over the middle of the field, Isabella watched a well-thrown pass from quarterback Josh Johnson slip through his hands.
His productive day underscored a surprising development in the Ravens’ passing game this week. The players in the middle of the team’s depth charts have provided more highlights than those at the top, a reflection more of this minicamp’s circumstances and aims than of any overarching performance issues.
At wide receiver, the Ravens have been without Rashod Bateman, who was expected to miss this week while recovering from a cortisone shot. Odell Beckham Jr. is still ramping up his workload. Devin Duvernay’s snaps Wednesday were limited. Zay Flowers, who has been dealing with a minor soft-tissue injury, is still finding his way in the offense.
At tight end, Mark Andrews’ snap count has been scaled back. Fullback Patrick Ricard, among the team’s leaders in offensive snaps last season, hasn’t practiced because of an undisclosed injury.
And at running back J.K. Dobbins has been sidelined by an undisclosed injury, while Gus Edwards has been limited to positional work.
All of this has led to foggy projections of what first-year coordinator Todd Monken’s offense can be — and what quarterback Lamar Jackson can do in it. After an offseason overhaul, the wait for realistic glimpses of the Ravens’ near future will likely linger until training camp.
But for now, anyway, Monken’s installation of the offense continues apace. Every day the Ravens take the field, the more they start to look like his Georgia attacks did. On Tuesday, there were screens galore. On Wednesday, there were toss sweeps and short-range crossing patterns and even an unexpected end-around.
Over a couple of competitive practices, the Ravens have certainly demonstrated proof of concept. And a handful of players have shown they know how to make the offense hum.
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, one of the standouts of offseason workouts, opened Wednesday’s practice with a touchdown catch over cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, whom he beat on a red-zone fade. Tight end Isaiah Likely again made a living underneath, finding the soft spots in zone coverages. Jackson, unofficially, finished 24-for-36 in team drills, spreading the ball around and looking for more deep shots than he did Tuesday.
“I’m impressed,” Monken said of Jackson before practice Wednesday. “There’s not a throw he can’t make, not a play he can’t make. Like any player, it’s, when we get to the line of scrimmage, what are they doing, what does that mean to us? Are our eyes in the right spot? Are we giving ourselves a chance, every single play, to be successful? And don’t waste plays. And then let your players’ talents come to life with what you do right now and then during the week.”
Jackson had an interception Wednesday, his first of minicamp, but he couldn’t be blamed for it.
Jackson, who threw with impressive anticipation for much of the practice, especially against pressure looks, rifled a throw to Agholor before he even got out of his break on a short out route in one 11-on-11 period. Agholor turned around in time to locate the ball, but it bounced off his hands and into the waiting grasp of cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
The Ravens’ other pick was less excusable. Near the end of practice, Huntley targeted wide receiver Dontay Demus, an undrafted rookie from Maryland, on an apparent back-shoulder throw down the right sideline. The trouble was, cornerback Kevon Seymour was already at Demus’ back shoulder. He secured the interception easily and headed back the other way as the defense celebrated.
Along with Dobbins, Ricard and Bateman, the Ravens practiced without wide receiver Mike Thomas, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive lineman Rayshad Nichols, inside linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips and cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams. All but Phillips and Stanley missed practice Tuesday.
Edwards and cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis worked out with a trainer on a nearby field after individual drills wrapped up.
- Guard Ben Cleveland has lined up at tackle for most of his minicamp snaps, and he hasn’t exactly looked comfortable. The 2021 third-round pick has struggled with speed rushes and, less surprisingly, with the communication required to defend stunts and twists upfront. After one difficult series, he met with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris for a quick chat.
- Kicker Justin Tucker got a good laugh from the fans watching at the Ravens’ facility when he booted a short field goal attempt through the uprights and over the net, landing the ball on the roof of the Ravens’ Under Armour Performance Center.
- After connecting with Isabella for the jump-ball score, Johnson came back one play later for another contested-catch touchdown, this time finding wide receiver Laquon Treadwell down the left sideline despite tight coverage from cornerback Trayvon Mullen.
- Late in practice, safety Kyle Hamilton couldn’t pull up quickly enough to stop from running over Likely after a short catch, a no-no in an ostensibly “noncontact” practice. A couple of plays later, Jackson scrambled and found Likely near the goal line. The tight end’s physical finishing apparently irked safety Marcus Williams, who was in coverage. As the period ended, there appeared to be some good-natured chirping among a few of the safeties and tight ends.
- Wide receiver Tarik Black, a practice squad player in Baltimore last year, had two touchdowns in team drills, including a deep connection with Jackson.
- Wide receiver James Proche II bounced back from a quiet Tuesday with a solid performance, but it could’ve been better. Early in practice, Stephens broke up a pass to Proche. Midway through practice, defensive back Daryl Worley stopped a potential touchdown with a last-second disruption at the catch point. And, toward the end of practice, Proche had one pass go through his hands despite a diving attempt, then couldn’t secure a contested catch in the end zone against Washington.
- Flowers became the last member of the Ravens’ six-player draft class to sign his contract Wednesday.
- Former NBA star Grant Hill watched the Ravens’ practice alongside Ozzie Newsome. Hill’s father, Calvin, played with Newsome on the Cleveland Browns and introduced him at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.