The Baltimore Ravens returned to the practice field for the start of Organized Team Activities last week.
While these early offseason practices may seem unimportant to the casual fan, OTAs serve an important role in the NFL offseason.
A huge component of OTAs is ensuring that players are in good physical shape. The middle of last week saw some intense heat in Baltimore, which can hurt any players who haven't been wise about managing their weight or conditioning during the offseason.
Even as the defending Super Bowl champions, head coach John Harbaugh didn't go easy on his team in temperatures that went into to the mid-80s. All practices were tough and up-tempo, a strategy that will help to ensure the Ravens are ready for the brutal conditions of training camp in a couple of months.
With practices concluded for Memorial Day weekend, the Ravens won't be getting back to OTAs until Tuesday, May 29. For now though, here's a look at the Ravens' player reports and analysis from their first week of OTAs.
With Anquan Boldin gone to the San Francisco 49ers, Torrey Smith is the Ravens' only sure thing at wide receiver right now. Through both free agency and the draft, the Ravens opted not to get a big-name receiver. but instead opted to trust in their group of unproven and young wide receivers.
The only receiver besides Smith with over two years of experience is the recent third-place finisher from "Dancing With The Stars," Jacoby Jones. Jones has understandably been busy with the show and after it's conclusion last week, he made his first appearance for team workouts on Thursday.
Despite the time off, Jones' veteran status and his clutch performance in the playoffs seem to make him the favorite for the No. 2 spot. That leaves Tandon Doss, David Reed, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams to contend for the No. 3 receiver spot.
This crowded competition still has a way to go, but OTAs have given a slight indication as to who looks better. Doss has impressed in offseason workouts before, primarily by displaying his great catching ability that was raved about by scouts when he came out of college. He added another great diving catch last Wednesday, which proved to be one of the highlights of the day's practice.
The other young receiver who has stood out so far is Thompson. He was all over, making tough catches and showcasing the athleticism that earned him notice as an undrafted free agent last season. '
According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun, Thompson and Doss could be in for a spirited competition for the third wide receiver spot. Even though just about every receiver looks impressive in these workouts, those two have stood out so far and it should be exciting to see if they can improve further over the summer.
With the retirement of Ray Lewis and the departure of Ed Reed, Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco can now lay claim to being the face of the Ravens franchise.
So far, Flacco seems to be doing a good job as one of the team's undisputed leaders. He has been present and actively involved in the team's offseason workouts, including this past week's OTAs.
It also appears that Flacco is bigger than he was last season. After hitting the weight room over the offseason, Flacco has increased from his 245 pounds last season to 252 pounds this summer.
The additional weight should make it more difficult for defenders to take down Flacco and should also strengthen his right arm, already one of the strongest arms in the NFL.
Regardless of the results, Flacco's diligence in the weight room show that he's taking his leadership seriously and is on track to prove that his performance during last year's postseason was no fluke.
As the biggest free-agent acquisition this offseason, Elvis Dumervil is now an important figure on the Ravens' defense. Dumervil also has some pressure to become a capable team leader in place of departed veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Ravens' fans have to love the way that Dumervil has started his career in Baltimore. He has participated in every aspect of the offseason program and has done his best to quickly learn the defensive system while also establishing himself as a leader. Even beyond the offseason program, head coach John Harbaugh has said that Dumervil has been at the Ravens facility pretty much every day.
Known as a leader during his time with the Denver Broncos, it's impressive to see Dumervil embrace this kind of role so early in the process. During this time of transition for the defense, it looks as though Dumervil will be a reliable player who can be counted on to both lead and produce at a high level.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, they are no longer completely clear on the injury front.
According to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, second-round draft pick Arthur Brown had to undergo surgery for a sports hernia after the team's rookie minicamp earlier this month.
The timeline for his injury ensures that Brown will be out for the next four to six weeks and likely won't be ready until training camp starts in late July.
While it's great news that Brown won't miss training camp or the preseason, missing the next months is still a bit of a blow. Where this could hurt Brown is in terms of development and it also hurts that the Ravens are lacking depth at the middle linebacker position.
Falling behind in a rookie season is never a good thing so Brown would be wise to keep studying his playbook and do what he can to ensure that he's ready when he's clear to take the field.
As one of the best players on the Ravens' defense, it's concerning to see Lardarius Webb suffer ACL tears twice in his young career.
His latest tear came back in October. Seven months later, he seems to have recovered considerably.
Webb participated in individual drills where he showed a solid burst when breaking for balls and no hesitation when backpedaling. He also was able to make some cuts while going through the drills.
Both Webb and Jameel McClain didn't participate in full 11-on-11 work, showing that there is still some work to be done in their respective recoveries. Webb has declined to give a definite return date, but from what he did in practice, it seems safe to say that he will be ready for training camp.
With his new two-year deal being filled with incentives, it's not too surprising that Bryant McKinnie has been behaving good and participating in OTAs.
McKinnie appears determined not to make the same mistakes he made in the past with his weight and seems motivated to stay in shape the whole offseason.
McKinnie has looked to be in good shape at OTAs, playing at a lighter weight and it shows as he's able to keep pace during up-tempo offensive drills.
Since his deal should keep him motivated to stay in shape, McKinnie could be in line for a great season. There's still a ways to go till the season starts, but to have McKinnie participating in OTAs and in good shape this early is definitely a good sign.