Training Camp Impressions-Baltimore Ravens

Who has been impressing practice observers and who has been falling off the pace? Scout.com's Adam Caplan continued his training camp tour on Sunday and takes a look at the performances from the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Westminster, MD. --

The Baltimore Ravens continued their training camp on Sunday in front of a nice crowd of fans who braved the humidity and hot temperatures.

Here's a look at went on during Sunday morning's important practice session from both sides of the football.


Offense

FLACCO SHOWS IMPROVEMENT: First-round pick Joe Flacco's practice performances have been up and down during the early going, but Sunday's performance may have been his best and quite possibly the best of any quarterback this week.

Flacco showed much more poise in the pocket and did a good job of going through his progressions. He also showed his trademark great arm on several occasions.

He hooked up with rookie WR Justin Harper and veteran TE Adam Bergen on two deep passes that were perfectly thrown down the sidelines. In fact, one of them beat double coverage.

But what might have been his most impressive throw might have been lost on the fans.

On a short passing play of about 10 yards, Flacco was under duress and he seemingly had no where to throw the ball. But one of the reasons why Baltimore selected him as high as they did was because of what came next. Flacco, with hands in his face, threw the ball into a tight area to rookie WR Marcus Smith who then took the ball down field for a big play.

The key now is for Flacco to show more consistency as he still is No. 3 on the depth chart.

Where he needs improvement is putting better touch on shorter passes--something we saw during Senior Bowl week practices earlier this year.

RICE IS COOKIN': The most impressive offensive player through the first week of practice has easily been second-round pick Ray Rice.

The former Rutgers University running back has shown the team why they felt he was a great value where he was selected.

There are two noticeable things about him.

He gets his pad level low which makes him hard to hit and he makes the unblocked defender miss quite a bit. Those are two key traits for good backs to have.

And by being small and doing a good job of setting up his blockers, Rice gets lost behind his much bigger offensive line and that makes him hard to see causing the defense to tackle him further down field.

One of the most impressive facets of his game in practice this week that the team wasn't sure about was his ability to catch the football.

"That was an area we weren't sure about (catching the ball out of the backfield) when watching his (pre-draft) tape. And not only that, his pass protection has been impressive," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told Scout.com.

When we asked him about how many touches he thought the diminutive but powerful back could handle, Cameron made a pretty bold statement...

"We think he can be a three-down back."

PATRICK RUNS HIGH, NEEDS TO GET LOWER: If there was a clear reason why rookie RB Allen Patrick lasted until the seventh round, you could easily tell why this week.

Patrick is a high runner and often gets hit at the point of attack. Practice observers have noted all week that Patrick hasn't adjusted his running style at all and hasn't been able to run with a lower pad level making him an easy target for defenders.

Despite that, Patrick does accelerate through the hole well and we can see does have good speed. He could develop into a decent No. 3 back for the team.

ROOKIE RECEIVER CONTINUES TO IMPRESS: One of the bright spots for the offense has been the very consistent play from rookie WR Marcus Smith who we mentioned earlier.

In Cameron's scheme, he likes big receivers who can run after the catch and run to daylight.

"We like receivers with size who can not only catch but who also are willing to block down field," Cameron told Scout.com.

The fourth-round pick out of the University of New Mexico has made several acrobatic catches through the first week of practice but he did drop a few balls on Sunday.

"What you have to like about him is after he dropped the two in a row, he came right back and made a play," Cameron added.

Smith made an outstanding catch in traffic on a short pass from Flacco and took the ball to the middle of the field showing his run after the catch ability.

MCCANTS HOPES TO MAKE MORE THAN CAMEO APPEARANCE: One of the more interesting stories is the return of veteran WR Darnerian McCants to the NFL.

McCants hasn't been in the league since 2006 when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles during the pre-season and he hasn't played in a game since 2005.

McCants got a call from the Ravens earlier this week and the soon-to-be 31-year old player (turns 31 on August 1) wanted to give the game another try.

"Well coach (John) Harbaugh knew me from my time with the Eagles and he knew I could play so that's why I'm here," McCants told Scout.com.

He likes the fact that the quarterbacks rotate but learning the offense has been a challenge.

"In Philadelphia, they run a West Coast offense with lots of verbiage, it's like trying to learn a paragraph of words one at a time. We have a number system here. So I have to keep in the playbook as much as I can," he said.

YAMON FIGURES TO GET HIS SHOT: One of the most noticeable issues that the Baltimore offense is dealing with is the lack of speed at the receiver position. The team was counting on getting production from third-year WR Demetrius Williams in the deep passing game but he remains on the PUP list with leg problems and there's no telling when he'll start practicing.

With Williams out, one player who is getting a shot to show the coaching staff what he can do is second-year pro Yamon Figurs who is expected to serve as the team's primary kick returner again this season.

One thing is for certain, Figurs can flat out run and he's easily the fastest player the team has on the offensive side of the ball.

This was never more evident after beating coverage about 40 yards down field on a pass from Kyle Boller.

But as practice observers note, Figurs has dropped way too many passes in his early career so he still has to show he can hold on to the ball more consistently.

The former Kansas St. University receiver has seen a lot of work with the second-team offense in recent days.

HEAP BACK TO NORMAL: One of the most under reported stories of training camp after the veterans reported has been the overall health of starting TE Todd Heap. The eighth-year pro missed 10 games last season and parts of others due to a lingering hamstring injury which never seemed to get better. Heap moved well during the Sunday practice session and he could be on the way back to solid production.

"The tight end has been a big part of this offense going back to Kellen Winslow," Cameron told Scout.com after Sunday's early practice.

Cameron's system is a derivative of former San Diego Chargers head coach Don Coryell's timing based system that has been copied by many teams over the years.

GUARDS MAKE SOLID IMPRESSION: Although the passing game was a struggle of sorts the interior play of the offensive line was impressive. During several running plays, starting Gs Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs carved out solid holes for the backs to run through. Because this is going to be power rushing offense with a run first philosophy, it's imperative that the offensive line play from the interior is solid.
 

Defense

CODY WORKING HIS WAY BACK
: Oft-injured fourth-year pro Dan Cody has looked has good has he has in while during the early going in training camp. The former second-round pick in the 2005 draft has suffered through various knee and foot injuries since being drafted and has played in just two games over a three-year period.

But Cody is finally healthy and his presence is being noticed. Cody has been moved from outside linebacker to defensive end where his pass rush skills have been evident. His long reach has served him well and the 6'5" inch plus defender has shown to have a good first step. He's been able to apply pressure of the edge in several drills so his early progress is encouraging.

EDWARDS AND SCOTT JACK UP ROOKIE: As detailed above, Allen Patrick's propensity to run high cost him on several runs. Backup DE Dwan Edwards and starting WLB Bart Scott nailed the rookie back on consecutive running plays much to the delight of the fans. We bet when the coaches watch the practice tape they'll get on Patrick for running too high.

NAKAMURA CONTINUES TO IMPRESS: One of the bigger surprises for the team through one week of practice has been sixth-round pick Haruki Nakamura. Not only did he look good before the veterans reported late in the week, but the former University of Cincinnati safety has taken advantage of extra snaps due to the absence of starting FS Ed Reed (PUP) and has seen plenty of work with the first-team defense.

Nakamura looks to be a technically sound player and he takes good angles to attack the offense. He also has good closing speed as shown during an interception on a deep pass thrown by Kyle Boller.

Boller hung up a deep pass to second-year WR Kerry Reed and Nakamura did a nice job of anticipating where the pass would land and he ran in front of the receiver on the play and returned the pass 20 yards down field.

Nakamura's progression has been noticeable and he's seen more time on the field than fellow rookie S Tom Zbikowski who was selected a lot higher (sixth round).


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