Baltimore Ravens Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts
This “dead zone” is when you’ll hear a lot of buzz about players, and the Baltimore Ravens are no different. It’s important to keep these observations in perspective, as these guys are playing without pads, but it’s always a good thing when a player makes an impression so early in the offseason process. This slideshow analyzes six Ravens and the reasons they have been turning heads in Owings Mills during OTAs.
Half of them are young players (including a couple of rookies) who are impressing with their knowledge and confidence. In addition, there are older players (mostly new additions) that have quickly emerged as leaders on the team despite their new surroundings.
All of them have put together an excellent start to the offseason and are poised to be steady contributors for this Baltimore team.
Matt Elam was easily the most outstanding rookie from last year’s class. It’s challenging for a rookie safety to take over as a starter so early in his career, but Elam handled the role well. Elam was critical of himself after the season ended, however, and he’s entered OTAs in excellent shape and with a refined knowledge of the playbook.
Elam broke down his new approach to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
I wasn't happy about [my rookie season] at all. That's why I approached the offseason the way I did, getting myself in shape, losing weight, getting myself fit and in shape physically and mentally to get myself right to take the next step.
That's why I feel so confident. I know the playbook a little more because I watched a lot of film. I feel like I had to take the next step, and that's what I'm trying to do.
The fruits of his labor are showing up on the practice field, according to head coach John Harbaugh, per Wilson:
He has really good control of the back end. It's pretty seamless. I haven't seen too many miscommunications, and I don't think any when Matt's been back there. He's really grown, so that's been a real plus.
More importantly, however, his teammates have more trust in him as a result of his self-confidence—as Lardarius Webb made clear, per Bo Smolka of CSNBaltimore.com:
The person who is just really growing is Matt Elam. From last year to this year, I see a big jump with his leadership, with him controlling the back end and just being that safety, controlling the calls. I just really like where I see him going.
When he is vocal, he's confident in what he's saying. If he makes the call, that's the call and you're going to play it. Last year, he wasn't like that. James kind of did it. He's taking that role now.
I'm seeing him just taking control. It's just how he speaks. He speaks with confidence now, and you can just tell.
Elam is an exceptionally talented safety, and his growth means he could be a game-changer at the position, but his maturity will also do wonders for the development of rookie Terrence Brooks.
The former first-round pick is locked into a starting role in the Ravens secondary, but this season it looks like he’ll be dictating the action instead of treading water in the backfield.
Steve Smith Sr.
BaltimoreRavens.com writer Garrett Downing included Steve Smith Sr. in his similar list of impressive Ravens, and his explanation is spot-on, so here it is:
The veteran newcomer has made a splash during his few months in a Ravens jersey. He has attended the entire offseason program, which is rare for a 14-year veteran. Smith isn’t just showing up, either. He has consistently made impressive plays on the practice field, catching everything thrown his way and beating the younger defenders in drills.
Smith’s reliable hands are the most obvious benefit of his addition, but his leadership will also pay dividends in the long run after Smith has left the Ravens.
He’s been working with the young receiving corps to improve their habits and technique, walking them through the finer points of each drill, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.
Kelechi Osemele’s talent isn’t in question, but his health was a concern after his 2013 season ended prematurely due to back surgery. Fortunately, Osemele has been dominant on the practice field—at least as dominant as one can be when you’re playing limited-contact football.
Jamison Hensley of ESPN shared his takeaways from watching OTAs, and Osemele’s performance was a noticeable one:
Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was the most impressive player on the field. There is no contact in offseason practices, but Osemele jumped out because he showed intensity in every drill. Even coach John Harbaugh pointed out how Osemele was running from drill to drill. After missing the last nine games with a back injury, Osemele seemed like he was letting everyone know that he's at full strength.
Osemele’s return to form is a big part of the Ravens’ hopes for a rejuvenated O-line, and his excellent conditioning bodes well for the unit.
The running back position has been somewhat disastrous for the Ravens this offseason. Off-field issues have dogged Ray Rice and Lorenzo Taliaferro, while Bernard Pierce has yet to get on the field with his teammates due to shoulder surgery.
Through it all, Justin Forsett—the newcomer—has taken advantage of his first-team reps to prove that he’s more than just a veteran backup plan but a contributor in the team’s running back-by-committee approach.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley had the following to say about Forsett’s performance in OTAs:
The running back who drew the most attention was Justin Forsett. The veteran journeyman is extremely small, but extremely fast. He displayed good hands in catching passes out of the backfield and turned upfield in a hurry.
His speed and receiving skills make him a unique player in the backfield, and there is definitely a niche for him in the offense. Right now, Forsett has the advantage since he’s familiar with Gary Kubiak’s offense. Forsett broke down that advantage in a conversation with Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I know the offense, so I feel comfortable going in wherever they want me. It helps a lot because I’m not learning something new. I can work on some other little things instead of learning the concepts and terms.
Forsett went on to tell Mink that his mentality is to “seize the moment when it comes,” and he’s off to a great start with his new team.
Timmy Jernigan was a steal for the Ravens at pick No. 48, but there were legitimate questions about his ability to make an immediate impact in the NFL—especially at the nose tackle position he thrived in at Florida State.
The Seminole still has to build familiarity with the playbook and a variety of positions along the defensive line, but his teammates have been impressed with the physical tools Jernigan has showcased in practice, according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
- Kelechi Osemele: "He’s flashing a lot. He’s playing fast, especially for being a young guy and being thrown in there with the ones every now and then."
- Lardarius Webb: "Jernigan has been in the backfield, I know we don’t have pads on, but his explosiveness and power [are impressive]."
- Eugene Monroe: "That kid is really quick-twitch, really explosive and strong. When they introduced all of the rookies in our first meeting, they put on a clip of him, and he just bench pressed a guy, threw him off and made a tackle. Hopefully, we can get a lot of that out of him."
Jernigan has looked physically ready for the rigors of battling in the professional trenches—something that shouldn’t be taken for granted—which means that he has a good chance to earn some significant playing time in the D-line rotation.
C.J. Mosley’s excellence has been the talk of Ravens OTAs—not just because of his physical gifts but more because of his intelligence and leadership.
Ravens Vice President of Public Relations Kevin Byrne was watching glimpses of OTAs and noticed the following:
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. ... And, he can run. He's going to be fun to watch over the years.
Mosley has been making calls and pre-snap adjustments near the line of scrimmage and has already looked extremely familiar with the Ravens playbook.
The first-round pick has been running with the second team for the most part, but he’s looked so impressive that a starting job appears imminent.
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:
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