OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens’ offense has been the talk of the offseason amongst fans, analysts and coaches waiting to see how Lamar Jackson and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken work together, but the defense has largely been impenetrable throughout the early portion of training camp.
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, now entering his second year with the team, appears to have this unit replicating their late-season form where they were one of the best defenses in the league.
According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Ravens ranked fifth in expected added points per play on defense (-0.078) from Week 9 through the end of the regular season last year. With linebacker Roquan Smith now in town for the entire offseason, the Ravens are locked and loaded for what is one of the most star-studded defenses in the NFL.
“He’s obviously an incredible player and great personality,” Macdonald said about Smith. “He’s one of our top leaders, and to his credit, he was here just like we talked about in the offseason. Guys gravitate toward him.”
Smith leads a group that features one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Marlon Humphrey, arguably the best safety duo in the league between Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton, and a top-flight secondary linebacker in Patrick Queen. Hamilton and Williams were all over the place during the first few days of non-contact practice, but it’s clear that those two — and Hamilton in particular — are going to be leaned on in a big way for the upcoming season.
“Kyle has had a great three days and really, we’re asking our guys back there to have production on the football, and he’s been there,” Macdonald said about his second-year safety. “…The game’s slowing down for him for sure. He’s taking a commanding presence back there making calls, so [I’m] very pleased with where he’s at.”
As Macdonald noted, it’s not always easy to get the best looks in training camp before the pads come on, but these are still valuable reps to learn from. The offense that Monken is installing is being run at an uptempo pace, which is certainly a challenge for players getting back to practice for the first time in a couple months in sweltering heat. The Ravens aren’t hitting, nor is any team without full pads on, but Macdonald noted there are ways even the defensive linemen can improve their game.
“It’s hard, you know. You look at it right now, we’re looking for technique, effort, execution, [and] that sort of thing,” Macdonald said. “In terms of the pass rush — balancing the rush, executing the moves — that sort of thing, but in terms of finishing, you kind of leave that to when the pads come on and get the reps in preseason.”
Baby steps so far, but the Ravens defense is showing off the familiarity with the scheme and each other as they enter their second year in this defense. If the offense can match the performance they’ve shown throughout the first few camp sessions, the AFC North needs to watch out.
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