The first six days of training camp for the Ravens have featured plenty: excessive heat, innumerable children cheering for Odell Beckham Jr. and a J.K. Dobbins question hovering over practices.
Dobbins is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, but he has been present at practices in street clothes, talking to teammates and coaches. Dobbins has posted and deleted on social media before about an uncertain future in Baltimore, and his absence at this point in camp has drawn various answers.
There’s Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who said, “I wish it was a simple answer,” and that there is “complexity to the situation” when asked about Dobbins not practicing. Then Dobbins’ new teammate, running back Melvin Gordon, said Dobbins was “holding out” of practice, a move players around the NFL use to try to force movement on a new contract.
Either way, the Ravens’ practices continue while the Dobbins drama unfolds in the backdrop. Tuesday was the team’s second day in football pads, beginning the period of proper evaluation for players trying to make the team or angling for higher spots on the depth chart.
Here’s a look at who has performed well and others with room for improvement.
Wide receiver Tarik Black
In the first practice in pads, Black was arguably the team’s most impressive receiver. Black caught a pass down one sideline over Rock Ya-Sin for a long gain and followed with another over Jalyn Armour-Davis on the opposite side. It was a day reflective of the kind of camp Black has been having, productive with catches each day and few errors.
Since Black entered the league in 2021 as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts, he has struggled to make rosters. His only game experience is with the New York Jets in 2021, when he played one game and caught one pass for 10 yards. The Ravens have a deep wide receiving core, and Black is far from a favorite to make the roster, but he has given himself a chance.
Guard Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu
One of the Ravens’ most important position battles will be at left guard. Ben Powers started last season, and he evolved into one of the better guards in the NFL. Powers was rewarded with a four-year, $52 million contract from the Broncos in free agency, leaving a hole in the offensive line as the Ravens implement a new offense.
The Ravens drafted Aumavae-Laulu in the sixth round this year after his final season at the University of Oregon; he seemed to be a long shot to be the starter with Ben Cleveland and John Simpson on the roster. And yet Aumavae-Laulu has taken reps with the first team throughout camp. Aumavae-Laulu hasn’t been perfect in the first week, but on the second day with pads, he made adjustments that led to significant gains and a longer time to throw for Lamar Jackson.
Wide receiver Zay Flowers
On Flowers’ first day of practice, he made a move that made linebacker Roquan Smith stumble, caught more passes from Jackson than Jackson had incompletions, and looked like the Ravens’ best wide receiver. Since then, Flowers has missed two practices with an illness, but he has continued to justify the Ravens selecting him in the first round, as he has consistently made plays.
After his first day of practice Jackson gave Flowers the moniker “Joystick,’” and offensive coordinator Todd Monken has called him a “fun little toy.”
Defensive Tackle Justin Madubuike
The first five days of training camp were without pads, which often makes line play challenging to evaluate. Still, Madubuike had been in the mix for stops and getting in the backfield, and when the pads came on Monday, Madubuike had the biggest day of anyone on the defense. He had two sacks and was a catalyst in clogging the running lanes.
Madubuike had his best year in the NFL last season, with career highs in sacks (5.5) and tackles (42). After the Ravens released defensive end Calais Campbell, the team will likely rely on Madubuike to take another step forward.
“You see a guy who now has started for three years — two, three years — could have a sense of entitlement, think he’s arrived. He doesn’t feel that way at all,” defensive line coach Anthony Weaver said. “When you go out there and watch him, he acts like he’s going to get chopped tomorrow. So, because of that mindset he has, he can absolutely get better and improve on a year ago.”
The Ravens have ranked in the top three in total rushing in the NFL each year since 2018, largely because of Jackson’s mobility and a rushing attack that easily got to the second level of defenses. Monken’s offense is supposed to feature a significant increase in passing, but the running backs have struggled to do much so far. (Hi, J.K. Dobbins.)
On Tuesday, Keaton Mitchell broke off a few runs for the first sizable gains of camp, which could be a sign things are headed in the right direction, but the running game has struggled for now.
Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin
With cornerback Marcus Peters gone, Ya-Sin has moved into the starting role opposite Marlon Humphrey but he has struggled to stay with receivers. On Tuesday, he was beaten for touchdowns by Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. and was burned deep by Beckham on a ball Beckham dropped but would have been a touchdown and the longest gain of camp.
Ya-Sin signed with the Ravens in the offseason after a year with the Las Vegas Raiders. Defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt said the growing pains for Ya-Sin are normal as he learns the Ravens’ system.
“So there’s a little bit of a learning curve with him right now,” Hewitt said, “But he’s getting there.”
Guard Ben Cleveland
Cleveland was once considered the favorite to take over at the left guard spot, but he hasn’t been paired with the first unit throughout camp. The Ravens picked Cleveland in the third round in the 2021 draft, but he has played in just five games since then. As camp continues, Cleveland’s roster spot could be in jeopardy.
Quarterback Anthony Brown
Brown appears to be on the outside looking in of this quarterback room as his snaps dwindle with each day of practice. Brown played in two games last season, including a start in the final regular-season game, but appears to have an uphill climb making this roster with Josh Johnson, Tyler Huntley and Jackson ahead of him.