Nearly every member of the Ravens has been asked the J.K. Dobbins question by this point in training camp. “It’s a complex situation,” coach John Harbaugh said. Ask Melvin Gordon: Dobbins is sitting out and not making “a big headline.” Lamar Jackson said he hadn’t talked to Dobbins about his “situation.”
On Thursday, it was new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s turn.
“We’d love to have J.K. out there,” he said. “There’s no question about it. We look forward to when he does get out there. I don’t control that. What I control is what we do each day on the practice field, and we’ll be excited when he gets back.
“I talk to him every day,” Monken continued, pausing with a smirk and throwing his hands in the air. He added: “He has a big smile on his face. I don’t know what else to say. He’s here every day, so when he’s out there we’ll be fired up he’s out there.”
Dobbins is on the physically-unable-to-perform list but has been present at practice in workout clothing. He has written on social media about an uncertain future in Baltimore, retweeted running backs frustrated with how the pay for the position has plummeted, but hasn’t come out himself or through his agent to say that he is holding out of practice.
The “holdout” that Gordon said Dobbins has been doing is a strategy players use to force teams to give them contract extensions. Before the new collective bargaining agreement in 2020, players were fined up to $30,000 per day for unexcused training camp absences, but the fines could be forgiven when a contract was resolved. An addition to the latest CBA, however, increased the fine to $50,000 for players who miss mandatory training camp practice. But for Dobbins, who is on his rookie contract, that fine would be $40,000.
“Holding in” is a loophole in the bargaining agreement. Players attend practice but don’t participate in team activities until their contract demands are met. Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel and Chargers safety Derwin James all held in and agreed to new deals last summer.
Because he is on the PUP list, Dobbins isn’t at that point — though it feels that way.
Regardless, if Dobbins does want a new contract, his logic would be sound. He is in the last year of his rookie contract and has been the Ravens’ best running back when healthy since he was drafted in 2020. Still, the challenge for Dobbins is staying healthy.
He missed the 2021 season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear and appeared in only eight games last season, having knee surgery. Over his first three seasons, he’s played in 23 games. His desire for stability heading into the final year of his contract makes sense.
But that same logic works in favor of the Ravens, who might want to see if Dobbins can finish a season healthy before committing to him long term. There’s also a long history of second contracts for running backs turning out poorly for the teams.
Despite talking with Dobbins every day, Monken said he isn’t sure how far Dobbins is with the new offense because he hasn’t been practicing. Monken added that it’s not hard to project how good the offense is without Dobbins and wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who is also on the PUP list, “because we’re not really good right now.”
When asked to comment on the state of running back value in the NFL, Monken said he values the position and thinks the league does too, but added that he is “never going to talk about another man’s business because that is something they have to take care of.”
As the Ravens wrap up Week 2 of training camp without Dobbins, his absence will continue to dominate the team’s off-the-field theater. Below are other notes from Thursday’s practice, which was a walkthrough that featured mostly drills, with 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven practices at half speed.
- Attendance: There were no new names to add to the usual injury report. The main players out remained Dobbins (physically-unable-to-perform list), fullback Patrick Ricard (hip, PUP list), Bateman (soreness, PUP list) and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (soreness, non-football-injury list). Cornerback Geno Stone (ankle) missed his third straight practice, and CB Rock Ya-Sin, who limped off Wednesday with a lower-body injury, was also absent. Outside linebacker David Ojabo, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and nose tackle Michael Pierce practiced after sitting Wednesday. (Beckham Jr. returned with purple hair.)
- Former Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who served as interim head coach of the Denver Broncos last season, has been back with the team this week coaching the unit and anywhere else he can help. Current special teams coordinator Chris Horton said having Rosburg back has been a breath of fresh air. “It’s awesome,” Horton said. “Jerry’s and I’s relationship is bigger than football. We do spend a lot of time talking to each other, so when he does show up, I’m excited to see his face and when he jumps in the drills it’s even more exciting because I can tell maybe he misses it a little bit. He wants to get out there and he’s coaching the right thing, so I’m all excited for it. It’s always good to see him.”
- When asked about the state of the offense and how it’s progressing with Monken’s style of faster tempo, the offensive coordinator said: “It’s a work in progress. We’re not nearly where we need to be, and we shouldn’t be. It’s early in camp, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
- All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith made an immediate impact to the Ravens defense after being acquired in a trade during the middle of last season. This year, Smith is with the team from the beginning. He’s entering his first full season with the Ravens after an offseason participating in OTAs, minicamp and training camp. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald touched on how important having Smith has been. “It’s huge,” Macdonald said. “He’s obviously a vital part of our operation, and he spearheads the charge. He picks it up very fast, he makes it seem very easy, and I think the guys follow that lead. If he’s going and rocking and rolling, then the guys fall in line and things just happen a little more seamlessly. It’s good; it’s great as a coach.”
- The Ravens moved on from a major voice of leadership in their locker room when they released defensive tackle Calais Campbell in March. They are filling Campbell’s void as a group instead of having one individual filling it on defense. When asked who from his unit has stepped up, Macdonald credited Pierce, defensive end Brent Urban and defensive tackles Broderick Washington Jr. and Justin Madubuike. “It’s a group that feeds off one another,” Macdonald said.