Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ravens passing camp notes and observations

The Ravens opened passing camp on Wednesday with the offense and defense working through individual drills on adjacent fields. Rex Ryan’s defense is naturally more familiar with the coaching staff’s expectations and their movements are relatively more comfortable and smooth than the offense which is still trying to get accustomed to Cam Cameron’s playbook and its accompanying terminology.

Two of the more noticeable things on the offensive side yesterday were the returns of Joe Flacco and Demetrius Williams. Early on Flacco seemed a tad rusty – rust that he would later shake off and then some. Williams moved well with no lingering effects from his sore Achilles.

Kyle Boller and Troy Smith shared the snaps with the first unit. Flacco got in some reps but the veterans split the majority behind a first team line from left to right of Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Jason Brown, Marshal Yanda and Mike Kracalik.

Just prior to simulated scrimmaging (in shorts and shirts only), Cam Cameron worked closely with his quarterbacks on the nuances of a handoff from the shotgun position. Cameron focused on footwork and ball skills. Imagine the fake pass to the outside that morphs into an inside handoff to the running back aligned to the left or right of the QB while in the gun (think Brett Favre fakes). Cameron stressed the importance of staying put after receiving the snap prior to the handoff in order to keep the play on time and the other moving parts of the offense in synch.

The simulated scrimmaging opened with Boller finding LeRon McClain circling out of the backfield for a 10 yard gain. The pass was on the mark, something that represented immediate progress for Boller who struggled with accuracy on that route one week earlier. Boller improved markedly from last week’s shaky passing camp performance.

On the very next play, Boller drilled a 30 yard pass to Williams streaking down the right sideline. The fastball was required in order to get the ball to Williams who had beaten Corey Ivy. A fast closing Jim Leonhard may have broken up the play during game action as Williams leapt to snag Boller’s pass leaving himself completely exposed.

Troy Smith took over soon thereafter and immediately went on top to find Todd Heap on a deep post. Fabian Washington had coverage on Heap and was stride for stride with the Ravens tight end. Washington appeared to have the ball in his sights but Heap snatched it away from the defender. On the very next play Heap demonstrated strong hands on a shorter crossing route seemingly taking a Smith pass right off the back of a Ravens’ linebacker.

The pace in and out of the huddle was a bit sluggish early on as Cameron encouraged his QB’s to, “get them in and out – let’s go!”

Flacco took over and he showed observers that he has some giddy-up for a quarterback who stands at 6’6”. On what appeared to be a designed option to the left, Flacco advanced the ball more than 20 yards downfield before being touched which inspired wild cheers from his offensive mates, one of whom shouted, “He’s got some Boo-yah!”

Flacco would follow that scramble with a pass deflected by Kelly Gregg. Gregg also batted down a Troy Smith pass. After each Gregg slowly wagged his finger at the QBs as if to playfully say, “Not in here!”

Boller’s overall performance was marked by more confidence, perhaps explained in part by the fact that he took many more snaps with the first team yesterday than he did last week. He hit Yamon Figurs who was working his way from left to right along the end line with a picturesque pass for a score. Figurs showed surprisingly strong hands on the play. Another encouraging development with Figurs was on display when he fought hard to get to a deep pass from Flacco down the right sideline. Frank Walker was called for pass interference in the end zone on the play thanks in large part to Figurs effort...Boller was picked off on a very similar throw to the same spot. The intended receiver on that play was Kerry Reed. Derrick Martin made a very nice adjustment and catch to finish the interception...Boller’s accuracy was better (cynics among the media suggested that it couldn’t get any worse than last week) as was his timing. He was chastised by Cameron for throwing a pass out of bounds when his receivers were covered. He wants Boller to get in the practice of tucking it and advancing the ball with his feet if running space is there instead of automatically giving up on the play. Boller did make a heady play on a blitz from his far left, pressure applied by a blitzing safety. He threw a deep pass to Mark Clayton running a streak along the numbers. The pass was placed where only Clayton could get it but the fourth year receiver failed to find the ball. It’s probable that he didn’t read the blitz. If he had turned a tad earlier, it’s a touchdown.

Troy Smith continues to look good although the distance between he and Boller on this day was not as pronounced. Smith continues to show better ball handling skills and sells the play action far better than the six year vet. Flacco is also better than Boller with play fakes. During simulated scrimmaging Smith threw a beauty of a pass in traffic after stepping up in the pocket. He hit Justin Harper along the left numbers 20 yards down field despite converging coverage. Harper showed nice footwork turning the comeback route back out to the sideline after the catch to avoid defenders. As noted before, yards after catch are being emphasized.

Joe Flacco was given the majority of the snaps during the two minute offense. He exhibited a calm demeanor that seemingly allows him to see the field with clarity. On one play he dropped back, read his progressions from left to right and just before the pressure reached him, he quickly pivoted and fired a bullet to Justin Harper along the right sideline just beyond the first down marker. Harper initially had possession but Derrick Martin aggressively chopped the ball from Harper’s mitts.

Also during the two minute drill Flacco hit Marcus Smith in stride on a 30 yard rope with Tom Zbikowski covering. After a pass play to the outside right that resulted in two receivers being in nearly identical spots (more on that in a bit), Flacco raced his team to the line of scrimmage and looked like he was going to spike the ball. Instead he faked the spike and threw a pass downfield about 15 yards to the left. The pass was incomplete yet Flacco’s moxie was impressive. Bart Scott shouted out from the opposite sideline, “Somebody was watching the Jets game on NFL Network last week!”

OTHER OBSERVATIONS: Ernie Wheelwright did his best Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran impersonation on Wednesday, dropping balls with regularity and even knocking one skyward that amazingly wasn’t intercepted by the defense. During 2 minute drills Marcus Smith and Wheelwright ran the same 5 yard out at the same spot on the field. After Smith made the catch in unnecessarily heavy traffic, the ’08 fourth round pick was heard calling, “Ernie!”...Clayton and Derrick Mason were effective finding soft spots in the defense and to the delight of Ravens fans everywhere, the soft spots weren’t just 3 yards from the line of scrimmage…UDFA WR Patrick Carter made a nice catch of a Boller toss in traffic, going up high to share the 20 yard in-route just inside the left hash mark…Todd Heap lined up several times in the backfield just to the right of the quarterback when in shotgun formation. Later in practice Heap caught a deep pass down the middle when he got by Jarret Johnson. Johnson was looking for deep support from Landry. He didn’t get it and afterwards pulled Landry aside to discuss the breakdown…Ray Rice continues to show rapid acceleration. On a short pass to the left flat, Rice quickly changed direction and got into gear to avoid the linebacker assigned to him. He could become a big headache to opposing defensive coordinators…Rookie G/T David Hale was schooled by Tavares Gooden and Edgar Jones. Gooden had a decided edge rushing the passer on one play and for the most part Hale was mugging the rookie ‘Cane. Jones blew by Hale who looked like a clumsy matador as the second year OLB/DE easily found the quarterback. Obviously it’s early but Hale doesn’t look like NFL tackle material.

Dan Cody practiced without incident. Most of his snaps were with his hand in the dirt along the left edge…Antwan Barnes is moving well with the added weight and muscle mass. He had one sack after a very nice inside stunt move off the left defensive edge that lead to a clear path to the QB…Derrick Martin was very vocal and seems to have taken a page from Corey Ivy on how to compete during practice. He had a solid outing with 3 batted down passes and the aforementioned interception…Ronnie Prude made a nice play batting down a pass intended for Mark Clayton…Lenny Walls was very limited…David Pittman was again an observer…Fabian Washington moved well. Don’t be surprised if he steals the starting job away from Samari Rolle…Matt Stover was 1 for 5 on field goal attempts of 43-49 yards.