Lamar Jackson hasn’t watched any of Todd Monken’s Georgia offenses. Too busy learning his own Monken playbook, he said Wednesday. But if the Ravens’ star quarterback has questions about what to expect, all he has to do is poll the team’s resident Georgia fans. They’d probably answer with a giddy smile.
“Very excited about Monk,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith, a former Bulldogs star, said after practice. He tuned in for plenty of their wins during last year’s national championship season. “Obviously, watching the Dawgs — even though they made it look easy a lot of the times — just how he utilizes everyone in their position, a lot of eye candy and things like that, I’m like, ‘Man, if some of this stuff was brought to the league, it’s going to create some problems.’ Because I know it made me think a little bit.”
The start of organized team activities in Owings Mills this week makes it easier to imagine what Monken’s first Ravens offense could look like. Jackson was back. Wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Zay Flowers were practicing. Most of the team’s offensive line was on hand. There were a lot of promising pieces, and plenty more still to come — tight end Mark Andrews, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.
But Monken’s tenure in Baltimore will be defined not by the Ravens’ personnel but by what he does with it. And, at every practice open to reporters, Monken has distinguished himself from his more laconic predecessor, Greg Roman, just as Monken’s offense, embryonic as it is, has distinguished itself from Roman’s.
Jackson joked Wednesday that Monken stops practice to “burst out fire” when the offense looks askew. During a passing drill Wednesday, Monken used a profanity, loudly, to make a teaching point. Later in the team’s positional work, the former NFL wide receivers coach offered another pointer, this one more PG-rated, to Flowers after an incompletion on a deep route.
“I like the energy,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I really like the energy. We usually have energy, but I think Todd has got a style that kind of lends itself to an uptempo type of an offense. Just his personality is like that. He’s got an uptempo personality, you may have noticed. … And he’s like that all the time, and I think our guys appreciate it. But there are a lot of little things we’ve got to work out. There are so many layers to putting it together, and we’re just kind of in the beginning of that whole process right now.”
Monken’s building blocks already look different from Roman’s. He has not waited long to port over elements of his Georgia offenses to Baltimore. The hallmarks of those powerhouse Bulldogs attacks — a mix of shotgun and under-center formations, a diverse screen game, a quicker tempo between plays, run-pass-option plays, presnap motion that can change the offense’s entire look or probe the defense for one particular clue — have been evident through three weeks of workouts in Owings Mills.
The next month could be rich with self-discovery. As Jackson learns more of the offense, as more Ravens return to Owings Mills for OTAs and mandatory minicamp, Monken will understand more and more about what is possible and what is not. The early reviews are promising. Jackson called the offense “smooth.” He said he’s “loving it.” Depending on how training camp goes, the honeymoon period might last a while.
“Learning from him, hearing him talk, leading us, it’s been great,” wide receiver Devin Duvernay said this month. “I think this year will be big for a lot of us, and, yes, we’re all excited about the offense.”
The Ravens didn’t just get Jackson back for Wednesday’s voluntary workout, the second of 10 noncontact OTA practices. Bateman and Duvernay, who suffered season-ending Lisfranc and foot fracture injuries last season, respectively, were also cleared for individual work at practice.
“Duv has been out there working hard; he’s kind of building his stamina back up,” Harbaugh said. “Bate’s right on schedule with what they told us. He’s chomping at the bit. The trainers are holding him back a bit. We want to be cautious more than anything right now. He wants to be out there. I feel good about those guys.”
The Ravens’ attendance, as expected, was far from perfect. On offense, the team was missing left tackle Ronnie Stanley, right guard Kevin Zeitler, Andrews and Beckham, while fullback Patrick Ricard watched from the sideline. Edwards, meanwhile, was limited to workouts with an athletic trainer.
On defense, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Damarion “Pepe” Williams and safety Kyle Hamilton were missing. Cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis was held out of team drills.
Harbaugh said Hamilton “just kind of tightened up” ahead of practice but should be fine, and that reserve wide receiver Mike Thomas might need shoulder surgery. Still, Harbaugh said he was “happy with the numbers.”
“We’ve got a lot of guys here,” he said. “I’m a coach. I want everybody here. I want every player here all the time doing everything they can. Now, is that necessarily the best thing? I don’t know. Everybody has got their own circumstance, and that’s OK. I think about what OBJ is doing, for instance, out there in Arizona; I don’t have any problem with that, or [with what] Mark is doing out there. They’ll be in here soon enough, whenever they’re ready and when they need it. And they talk to me and tell me what they’re doing. They’re working hard. So you don’t try to worry too much about it.”
On a day overflowing with screen passes, big-play opportunities were few and far between. Wide receiver Tylan Wallace, however, made the most of his.
Late in practice, Wallace ran a vertical route against rookie cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly, who covered him nearly step for step down the left sideline. Reserve quarterback Josh Johnson’s jump ball came down just out of Kelly’s reach, however, and Wallace bobbled the catch to himself as he fell, getting two feet in at the front corner of the end zone for a 35-yard score.
The play was a reminder of Wallace’s downfield ability, rarely seen through two quiet seasons in Baltimore. He had 43 contested catches over his final three years at Oklahoma State, according to Pro Football Focus, the most in the Football Bowl Subdivision in that span. As a senior in 2020, he had 12 catches of at least 20 air yards for 408 yards, also among the nation’s leaders.
David Ojabo said last week that he doesn’t want to talk anymore about the torn Achilles tendon that nearly robbed him of his rookie season. If the 2022 second-round pick keeps practicing like he did Wednesday, it’ll be hard to focus on his past instead of his future.
Ojabo was one of the day’s defensive standouts, along with close friend and fellow outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. In positional drills, he showed his unique movement skills, gliding past blocking pads with the bend that made him a pass-rushing force at Michigan in 2021.
Ojabo’s strong showing carried over into team drills, where he set the edge well — a weakness of his in college and a key to more playing time in 2023 — and had the day’s best pass-rush move. Rushing over the left tackle late in practice, he used a spin move to slip between the tackle and guard before pulling up to avoid a possible hit on the quarterback. In celebration, he twirled around on his toes as if he were a ballerina dancing en pointe.
- It was a good day for new faces. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, signed this month, had a pass defense on a throw to wide receiver Tarik Black. Flowers, the team’s first-round pick, was active as a runner and receiver. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, signed in March, also had a handful of catches.
- Jackson, who reported for OTAs on Tuesday, didn’t participate in team drills Wednesday. His workload is expected to grow over the next month. “We want to ramp him up a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “His first day was yesterday, ramp him up in terms of the conditioning. He’s been working, but with the conditioning here, the running, the lifting, the throwing, learning the offense, just ramp him up out there, then he’ll be ready to go.”
- The Ravens signed defensive tackle Angelo Blackson on Wednesday. Blackson, 30, played 15 games last season for the Chicago Bears, starting four. Smith, the former Bears star, said he has “a great deal of respect for him. The guy runs to the ball, plays hard, so I’m excited just to be back out here with him, hang out with the guy, another familiar face. I know it’s a great addition to our defense, and I think he’s going to help us.”