John Harbaugh confident Ravens will have ‘very good O-line’ despite losing key starters


ORLANDO, Fla. — As Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh took his seat in the corner of the Palazzo Ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel Monday morning, he was quickly reminded of what happened last year at the AFC head coaches breakfast.

“Did everybody check Twitter?” cracked Chad Steele, the Ravens’ senior vice president of communications. “Are we OK? Are we good? Just want to make sure.”

A year ago, as Harbaugh was on his way to his designated table for the coaches’ breakfast, Lamar Jackson took to Twitter to go public with his request for a trade, adding another level to difficult contract negotiations between the quarterback and the Ravens.

For nearly 30 minutes, with the throng of cameras, tape recorders and phones growing as reporters learned of Jackson’s request, Harbaugh answered question after question about the organization’s relationship with its star quarterback.

Harbaugh was able to laugh about the memory on Monday. Nearly a month after the trade request, the Ravens signed Jackson to a landmark contract extension. He then went out in the 2023 season and won his second Most Valuable Player award, leading the Ravens to a 13-4 regular season and a berth in the AFC Championship Game.

“I should text him right now,” Harbaugh said Monday after settling into his seat. “I’m going to do that. That’s too classic.”

There’s no hot-button issue that demands the Ravens’ full attention at this week’s annual league meetings, like there was last year when Jackson’s contract status was one of the prominent stories of the NFL offseason.

On Monday, Harbaugh was asked more questions about his thoughts on the new kickoff proposal than anything else, which was hardly surprising given his background as a special teams coach. For the record, Harbaugh is pleased that the league is trying to bring returns back into the game but acknowledged “there’s a lot of questions” about the current proposal.

He was asked plenty of questions about departing Ravens players or coaches, like guard Kevin Zeitler, who is now in Detroit; inside linebacker Patrick Queen, now with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers; and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

As for his team, which has had its typical start to the offseason in that it’s added one prominent outside free agent (running back Derrick Henry) and re-signed several of its own while losing many coaches and players, its most current issue is how it’s going to rebuild the offensive line over the coming weeks.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Ravens keep suffering free-agent losses, but Derrick Henry represents one big gain

Left guard John Simpson, who started every game last season, signed with the New York Jets. Venerable right tackle Morgan Moses was traded to the Jets in what Harbaugh essentially said was a cap-cutting move. Zeitler, a key cog on the offensive line for the previous three years, will be playing his 13th NFL season with the Lions. Their departures leave the Ravens with just two returning starters up front: left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who took a pay cut to stay; and center Tyler Linderbaum, who Harbaugh believes is the best player at his position in football.

“We’ve got to find out who the next guys are going to be,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh was quick to mention that the Ravens have in-house options to fill the starting offensive line vacancies. He mentioned that Daniel Faalele, a fourth-round pick in 2022, will get an opportunity to win the right tackle job. He said Andrew Vorhees, a 2023 seventh-round pick who missed his entire rookie season after tearing up his knee during workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine, should be ready to take part in the offseason program without restrictions. He didn’t bring up Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, who took first-team reps at guard last summer, but he wasn’t asked about him, either.

Scoop City Newsletter

Scoop City Newsletter

Free, daily NFL updates direct to your inbox. Sign up

Free, daily NFL updates direct to your inbox. Sign up

BuyBuy Scoop City Newsletter

Harbaugh also brought up last week’s signing of Josh Jones, a young veteran who has made 24 starts over the previous three seasons and could be in the mix at either guard or tackle. Harbaugh brought up a parallel between Jones and Simpson, mentioning how nobody was predicting at this time last year that Simpson, a 2020 fourth-round pick who had starting experience with the Las Vegas Raiders, would win a starting job and play well.

And then, Harbaugh mentioned possible offensive line reinforcements coming from the draft. This year’s offensive line draft class is touted as one of the deepest and most talented ones in recent memory.

“I’m confident that we’ll have a very good offensive line,” Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh took it even further earlier, saying that he expects the offensive line to be better than it was last season.

“That’s always the goal, to improve,” he said. “Along the offensive line, we want to be even better than we were last year. I think Joe D’Alessandris does an amazing job coaching the offensive line. We still got Joe, so that’s a big plus.”

The Ravens also have Todd Monken returning for his second season as the offensive coordinator. Monken’s debut was marred by the team curiously getting away from the run game in the AFC championship loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Otherwise, Monken had a strong first season as Baltimore finished fourth in points per game (28.4), sixth in yards per game (370.4) and led the league in rushing yards per game (156.5).

But there will be extensive personnel changes on the offensive side of the ball beyond just the O-line. At running back, Henry is in and Gus Edwards, and at least for now, J.K. Dobbins and Dalvin Cook, are out. Edwards has joined Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman out west. Dobbins and Cook are both free agents. While John Harbaugh didn’t rule out their return, he said the Ravens would be prepared to bring in a younger option. Everything, though, will fall in line behind Henry.

“It’ll look different, there’s no doubt about that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the one thing we believe in is keeping it moving. You can never keep it the same. … No patterns. We don’t want patterns. We don’t want to be predictable in what we’re doing.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Derrick Henry feels right at home with Ravens: ‘This is where I knew I wanted to be’

There will also be extensive changes at wide receiver. Devin Duvernay has already signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Odell Beckham Jr. will be playing football elsewhere in 2024. The Ravens hosted veterans Michael Gallup and Josh Reynolds on free-agent visits last week, but Harbaugh was noncommittal about the prospects of adding a veteran pass catcher to join a group that includes Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholor.

“I would think Rashod and Zay would be excited to step to the front together. That’s where it begins,” Harbaugh said. “Then we get a veteran player back in ‘Nelly’ who did such a great job last year — he was a former first-round pick. He played at a high level, he’s a real versatile player. I think Tylan (Wallace) gets a chance. We’ve got Sean Ryan in there. He’s a young guy, you never know how those young guys are going to keep developing. We think all our young guys are all really talented guys, and we’ve got the draft. I think we’re going to be in great shape at wide receiver. I’m really excited. Losing Odell, I love him, but give those young guys a chance and see how they do.”

Then, there’s the coaching aspect of it. It was well documented last year that the offense was going to be a work-in-progress under Monken, who sought to make the team’s attack more balanced without losing the power running game that worked so well under Roman.

Monken’s influence on the team’s 2023 offense was certainly noticeable, but another offseason program and training camp together will presumably bring an even greater comfort level between the play caller and quarterback.

Harbaugh said Jackson has already provided input on some of the wide receivers coming out of the draft that he’d like the Ravens to consider. When Jackson returns to the facility later in the offseason, Harbaugh expects the conversations to pick up about the potential alterations that Monken is spearheading on offense.

“We’re kind of way, way underwater right now, working on taking the next step in the offense, and I’m excited about it,” Harbaugh said.

Other notes

• The Ravens have remained in touch with free-agent outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, and Harbaugh said he was optimistic that the team can bring one, or both, back for another season.

• With Tyler Huntley signing with Cleveland, Harbaugh said Josh Johnson will be the Ravens’ No. 2 quarterback. But the team will take a longer look this summer at Malik Cunningham.

• Harbaugh said that David Ojabo, who played in just five games over his first two seasons, is healthy. He predicted a breakout season for the 2022 second-round pick.

• Harbaugh would like to have joint practices with the Washington Commanders again during training camp, but he said it would depend largely on his team’s preseason schedule.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Ravens free-agency tracker: Arthur Maulet returns, Kevin Zeitler signs with Lions

(Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top