Baltimore Ravens: Early Rookie Progress Reports
The Baltimore Ravens will be counting on their most recent draft class to make a bigger immediate impact on the field than its predecessor, so it’s a worthwhile endeavor to take an early look at how the rookies are progressing.
Rookie starters are the exception, not the norm, but a number of these rookies are competing for playing time and a spot in the rotation. C.J. Mosley has blown away all of his new coaches and teammates but how are the rest of his peers faring?
That’s what this slideshow is all about. Each slide provides an update about a key member of the rookie class.
While it would be ideal to have a “progress report” on every rookie, I’m not watching them practice so I only have access to reports and other articles around the web so every rookie is not covered here—only the ones that have been discussed enough to get an idea of their performance.
When looking at the rookie class, it’s important to assess them on a different scale than C.J. Mosley. Not because he’s a first-round pick, but because he’s shattered the expectations placed on any first-year player.
Mosley was widely considered one of the surest picks in the draft, and he hasn’t disappointed yet. Physically, he’s impressed with his speed and range, but it’s the mental side of his game that is so amazing—and bodes well for his chances of locking up a starting job and being a favorite for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
He’s making pre-snap reads and has been a vocal leader even in these early stages. Ravens Vice President for Public Relations Kevin Byrne was only taking in snippets of the first session of OTAs, but even he came away impressed with the Alabama product:
No. 1 choice C.J. Mosley, lining up at inside linebacker, looks like he has been a Raven for a lot longer than a few weeks. He has the countenance of a long-time veteran. He calls defensive signals with confidence.
Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com supported that notion, sharing this tidbit from rookie minicamp:
Mosley also got a lot of praise from Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees and Inside Linebackers Coach Don Martindale for his communication before the snap. Martindale barked at one linebacker for not recognizing an offensive movement earlier and praised Mosley for bailing him out.
We’ll have to wait quite a while until we see how Mosley sheds NFL blocks in the running game, but he’s been phenomenal so far.
There hasn’t been much news about Timmy Jernigan, but what I have seen is normal for a defensive lineman making the adjustment to the NFL—especially for the Ravens. Baltimore uses multiple fronts and the linemen need to be versatile and have an in-depth knowledge of the scheme.
To his credit, Jernigan seems focused on learning the playbook and a range of positions so he can contribute immediately. He explained the transition in his press conference during rookie minicamp:
In a scheme like this, I know that you really have to learn everything. The guys move around a lot—that’s what I’ve seen. Each defensive lineman plays a little bit of the nose [guard], the shade [tackle] and the three-[technique]—a little bit of everything. So, that’s my biggest thing is being able to learn the playbook as a defensive lineman, not just as a nose guard or a defensive tackle.
In addition to learning the scheme, however, Jernigan needs to prove he’s strong enough to get on the field right away. He played as a nose tackle at Florida State, but he weighs about 30 pounds less than the other nose tackles on the roster.
Ryan Mink made some observations at OTAs, and he noted that Jernigan “sometimes had trouble standing his ground against Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, but also twice knifed into the backfield to make plays.”
Jernigan didn’t show much in the way of quickness with the Seminoles, but he has discussed wanting to show other aspects of his game and that will be crucial for his hopes of getting on the field in 2014. It’s early days still, but expectations should be tempered for Jernigan until we see how he handles the transition to the physicality of the NFL.
Crockett Gillmore was drafted because of his large frame and tenacity as a blocker, and he’s saying (and doing) all the right things so far. In his rookie minicamp presser, Gillmore took pride in his blocking—a welcome sign for the coaching staff:
For me, a tight end is a guy that can play any position on the field; he just happens to be a bigger body. So for me, I think of myself as a blocker with ability to catch the ball. I think championships are still won running the ball and playing defense. So, I’d much rather be considered a blocker that can catch than a receiver that can block.
Blocking will be his ticket onto the gridiron, but don’t sleep on his receiving abilities either. He didn’t look like a special receiver at Colorado State, but he opened eyes on the college all-star circuit and has been impressive in receiving drills in Baltimore.
Ryan Mink gave his opinions on what he saw from Gillmore at minicamp:
Tight end Crockett Gillmore didn’t drop a ball all day. He has really soft hands and plucks the ball well away from his body. He’s a big target running crossing routes. Gillmore views himself as a blocker first, but he can catch too.
With Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels ahead of him on the roster, his role will probably be limited to the red zone but Gillmore has a nice, well-rounded game which is exciting in the long run.
On the field, Lorenzo Taliafero has looked pretty good. It’s just off the field that has alarm bells ringing. According to The Virginia Gazette, Taliaferro was charged with destruction of property and given a summons for public intoxication—both of which are misdemeanors—but it’s a terrible start to life as a professional.
Not only is it stupid and intolerable but consuming large amounts of alcohol is hardly a good training tactic.
Hopefully he gets his act together—or his roster spot could be in jeopardy—because he clearly has the talent to be a very effective NFL running back and would add another dimension to the rushing attack.
Coach Harbaugh was very complimentary of Taliaferro’s work on the field, according to Ryan Mink:
I thought Lorenzo was very smooth running the ball. He did a nice job picking up the aiming points and the reads. He looks like he is a big guy, a downhill guy. I was very impressed with what kind of shape he is in. There is not an ounce of fat on him, and he is 230 pounds. [He is] very good at pass protection. I thought he showed excellent hands and get-away ability on his routes when he went against a linebacker. So [it was] all good that way.
If he was in excellent shape before the incident, he should be even fitter now after Harbaugh made him run 18 gassers after practice.
It’s not a good start for Taliaferro, but his on-field performance is promising. At the very least, he should be a change-of-pace back that can get it done around the goal line if he keeps his head on straight.
It’s so hard to evaluate quarterbacks coming out of college because so much of the position is mental, but Keith Wenning has displayed the physical tools that appealed the Ravens on draft day.
Coach Harbaugh commented on those tools after rookie minicamp, via Ryan Mink:
Two things: really nice touch and also he has a strong arm. He is a big, strong guy. Those [quarterbacks] are all under siege right now from [Offensive Coordinator Gary] Kubiak and [Quarterbacks] Coach [Rick] Dennison to have their eyes and their feet where they’re supposed to be, and he is no different. But he has talent.
Even as a rookie, Wenning has more arm talent than Tyrod Taylor and is challenging for the backup job. It’s too early to make any proclamations about that battle, but he looks like an intriguing developmental quarterback.
There are a ton of undrafted rookies with hopes of making the final roster, but it’s a cutthroat business and most of them will be cut. The same can’t be said of James Hurst, and it would be a shock if he didn’t at least latch on to the practice squad.
Hurst was a mid-round pick before a late leg injury caused him to fall out of the draft. The physical tools are definitely there, and Coach Harbaugh admitted as much to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
Hurst at the left tackle draws my attention a lot. He has very good feet. He seems like he’s picking it up quickly. He likes to practice. He has a heavy punch. So, he has a chance.
He looks like a candidate to step in as a backup “swing” tackle, and he’s finally fully healthy and showing no after-effects of the leg injury. Winning the starting right tackle job is a lot to ask, but Hurst has all the makings of a reliable backup tackle with the potential to be a quality starter.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter: