The Ravens are less than three weeks away from their preseason opener. They’re less than seven weeks away from their regular-season opener. Starting Wednesday at training camp, they’ll help pass the time by taking on the team they know best: their own.
As full-squad practices ramp up over the next two weeks in Owings Mills, so will the competition between the Ravens’ offense and defense. There will be one-on-one showdowns, best-on-best sessions in team drills and, finally, padded practices.
Here are six matchups that could define the Ravens’ training camp.
Lamar Jackson vs. Todd Monken’s new playbook
This is more collaborative than adversarial, of course, but the Ravens won’t know what might work in Week 1 until they figure out what doesn’t work in camp. And there’s a lot to go over. Monken’s system is the first Jackson has had to learn from scratch since early in his career; even the 2019 offseason, Jackson’s first under Greg Roman, had some conceptual carryover from his rookie year, when the Ravens leaned on Roman’s run concepts.
With Jackson’s financial future finally secure, Monken’s offense should have his full attention in camp. Jackson’s deep dive started months ago, during organized team activities, and continued into mandatory minicamp, where he reiterated his excitement over the potential of Monken’s “pro-style” offense. Now Jackson has to iron out all the wrinkles that come with a new system: communicating and adjusting plays before the snap, reading out coverages, learning the tendencies of receivers, and realizing how he can best keep the offense on track.
Rashod Bateman vs. Marlon Humphrey
Bateman, who’s still recovering from Lisfranc (foot) surgery, was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list Monday. He had soreness in his surgically repaired left foot during minicamp after receiving a cortisone shot and is expected to ramp up his workload in camp. The Ravens will be patient with his rehabilitation; they know a fully healthy Bateman can be a highly productive option for Jackson.
The 2021 first-round pick was one of the stars of training camp last year, winning regularly on the outside, even when matched up against Humphrey. This summer, Bateman’s battles with the Ravens’ top corner should be a good gauge of his progress and potential. If he can separate as smoothly as he did last year, expectations for the 23-year-old should be high. If not, Jackson will probably find himself calling someone else “WR1.”
Isaiah Likely vs. Kyle Hamilton
As rookies, the two were practically joined at the hip during one-on-one drills. This camp, they could be matched up even more often in team drills. Despite Hamilton’s move away from the slot, where he likely would’ve lined up against tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Zay Flowers, the safety should see plenty of time in the box and around the line of scrimmage.
That should bring him back into Likely’s orbit. The tight end was a popular target during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, especially on short and intermediate throws. Likely’s blocking ability and short-area quickness should test Hamilton, just as Hamilton’s length and coverage instincts should test Likely.
Tyler Linderbaum vs. Michael Pierce and Travis Jones
On one of the first plays of last year’s training camp, Pierce bowled over Linderbaum, not seeming to care that the first-round pick almost never saw pass rushers his size in college. The messy encounter set the stage in some ways for Linderbaum’s rookie year. An elite run blocker, he struggled at times to hold off the NFL’s best and biggest nose tackles.
Pierce and Jones will test Linderbaum’s growth in camp, especially when the pads come on. Pierce entered the NFL’s summer hiatus in great shape, and he’s expanded his pass-rush arsenal since his early years in Baltimore. Jones, meanwhile, is a physical specimen, though he still has room for growth as a technician. If Linderbaum can keep his part of the pocket clean in camp, a Pro Bowl season could be in the offing.
Ronnie Stanley vs. Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo
Expectations in Baltimore are high for Oweh and Ojabo, who’ve reshaped their bodies since a difficult 2022. Oweh, like Bateman, has to prove that a disappointing sophomore season is behind him — and, maybe more urgently, that exercising his fifth-year option is in the team’s best interests. Ojabo, limited as a rookie by his rehab from a torn Achilles tendon, will be pegged for a breakout season if he’s as hard to block in camp as he was during OTAs and minicamp.
Stanley promises to make that difficult. He allowed just one sack in his 11 games at left tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and enters camp as healthy as he’s been since before his 2020 ankle injury. If Oweh and Ojabo live up to their considerable potential, and fellow outside linebacker Tyus Bowser returns to his 2021 form, they could give the Ravens their best group of edge rushers since 2018, when Za’Darius Smith, Matthew Judon and Terrell Suggs led the charge up front. One year later, during his fourth season in Baltimore, Stanley earned All-Pro honors.
John Simpson vs. Ben Cleveland vs. Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu
The Ravens’ trio of contenders at left guard — a field that could conceivably expand to five, depending on how the team proceeds with do-everything lineman Patrick Mekari and second-year tackle Daniel Faalele — will face so many defensive linemen in camp that it’s hard to pinpoint a handful as especially crucial. The eventual favorite won’t need to neutralize Justin Madubuike on every snap; he’ll just have to figure out a way to do so more often than the rest.
All eyes will be on the position throughout the next month. Simpson has the most starting experience and the opportunity for a fresh start after three uneven seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders. Cleveland has been solid in pass protection but not overpowering as a run blocker. Aumavae-Laulu played primarily tackle in college, but as a 24-year-old rookie, his learning curve might not be as steep as it is for other first-year linemen.