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Ravens Insider: Five things to watch for at Ravens OTAs, including a new defensive coordinator and intriguing rookies

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It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the Ravens.

In the four months since a difficult loss at home in the AFC championship game to the Kansas City Chiefs, their coaching staff got raided and they lost several key contributors on offense and defense in free agency. The NFL also handed Baltimore one of the league’s toughest and most eccentric schedules.

But whatever angst or frustration general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh perhaps felt has long since waned. They trust their process and any doubt is replaced by the annual spring bloom of optimism that coincides with reconstructing things all over again and getting back on the field to take the first steps toward the goal of trying to capture the organization’s third Super Bowl trophy.

Having reigning and two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson at quarterback is a powerful remedy, too.

On Monday, Baltimore began its first of what will be 10 days of voluntary organized team activities over the next three weeks. There is no contact allowed, but seven-on-seven and full-team work is permitted. Several of the sessions will be open to the media, including Wednesday’s.

Here are the biggest things to watch for this spring.

What will Lamar Jackson have to say?

Much has been made about Jackson’s 10-pound weight loss that has him down to 205. But at this point of the year, it’s meaningless, though it will be a topic of discussion.

More intriguing will be what input he has provided and how he will operate in Year 2 of offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme, particularly with four-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry alongside him.

How much Jackson will do and if he’ll even be there is not yet known since the sessions are voluntary, but given his track record he’ll be there for at least some of the practices. Whatever it is, it will be worth noting his progression in his second go-around with Monken as he enters his seventh year in the league. A meeting with the media would also be his first since the Chiefs loss.

Lamar Jackson holds MVP trophy.
Will Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, showing off his NFL Most Valuable Player Award in February, be at voluntary organized team activities? (Matt York/AP)

How will Derrick Henry impact the Ravens’ offense?

Henry is the best back to line up alongside Jackson in his career, having topped the 1,000-yard mark five of the past six seasons and scoring 68 rushing touchdowns in that span with the Tennessee Titans. Jackson, meanwhile, has led Baltimore in rushing each of the past five seasons, an NFL record for quarterbacks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

How will the two jell in an offense that underwent an overhaul last year to be more spread out and pass-friendly?

We won’t really know until training camp, but it’ll be fascinating to see Jackson and Henry, two of the most dynamic and explosive players in the NFL, on the field together for the first time. Their chemistry will go a long way toward determining the Ravens’ success.

What about all those holes on the offensive line?

Speaking of overhauls, the only guarantee on the Ravens’ offensive line is that Ronnie Stanley will be the left tackle and Pro Bowl selection Tyler Linderbaum will be at center. Gone are guards Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson, who signed with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, respectively, along with right tackle Morgan Moses, who was traded to the Jets in a swap of draft picks.

Who fills the right tackle opening and two open guard spots won’t be determined until training camp, but these next few weeks could provide at least some insight and it will be the most intriguing position group to watch.

At right tackle, the hope is that agile rookie second-round draft pick Roger Rosengarten adapts quickly to the NFL and can be plugged in to start immediately. Otherwise, Baltimore would likely turn to third-year former fourth-round pick Daniel Faalele, or perhaps the versatile Patrick Mekari, though the Ravens would prefer to keep him as a swing tackle or guard. As for the two guard spots, there are four players vying for starting jobs: Andrew Vorhees, Ben Cleveland, Josh Jones and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. Who gets first-team reps during OTAs and the mandatory minicamp in mid-June could provide some direction.

Ravens inside linebacker coach Zach Orr, center, talks to the players about the next drill at practice. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)
New Ravens defensive coordinator Zach Orr will be someone to watch during voluntary OTAs. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

What kind of defensive coordinator will Zach Orr be and what about other coaching changes?

With Mike Macdonald now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, former Ravens inside linebackers coach Zach Orr takes over as defensive coordinator. It will be his first time calling plays at any level.

At 31, he’s the second-second-youngest defensive coordinator in the league, behind the Arizona Cardinals’ Nick Rallis, and there are four Ravens, including outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Brent Urban, who are older than Orr. The expectation is twofold: He’ll use the same system as Macdonald, perhaps with some tweaks, and he’ll bring the same intensity and energy he had as a player. Put another way, he shows much more emotion than his predecessor.

But Orr was hardly the only change on Harbaugh’s staff, with at least nine other assistants now elsewhere.

Former Baylor defensive line coach Dennis Johnson was hired for the same role after Anthony Weaver left to become the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator. Former Kansas defensive analyst Mark DeLeone fills the vacancy left by Orr’s promotion. Former Michigan defensive analyst Doug Mallory was hired as defensive backs coach after Dennard Wilson bolted to be the Titans’ defensive coordinator. And ex-Washington Commanders offensive line coach Travelle Wharton was tabbed for the assistant offensive line opening after the Los Angeles Chargers plucked Mike Devlin to be their offensive line coach.

That’s a lot of change — something Harbaugh is somewhat used to — but how the group fits together and meshes with players will be interesting to watch.

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Nate Wiggins (2) runs during an NFL Rookie Minicamp, Saturday, May 04, 2024 in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)
For cornerback Nate Wiggins and the other Ravens rookies, organized team activities are key to their development. (Daniel Kucin Jr./AP)

What rookies will be most intriguing?

For the majority of Ravens players, these spring practices are old hat and a chance to dust off the cobwebs. For the rookies, it’s an important time to learn how to adjust to NFL life and work with their new teammates.

Most eyes will be on first-round cornerback Nate Wiggins and Rosengarten.

Much has been made about Wiggins’ thin frame and how physical he will be at this level, though Harbaugh isn’t worried because “he comes up and smacks people.” Wiggins’ speed, meanwhile, could mean the Ravens shift Marlon Humphrey to the inside.

They’re not the only rookies to keep an eye on, however.

Edge rusher Adisa Isaac, a third-round pick, could be in the mix in a young outside linebackers group, save for veteran Kyle Van Noy. Fourth-round wide receiver Devontez Walker, meanwhile, could press for snaps as the team’s fourth wide receiver, as could Deonte Harty. Fourth-round cornerback T.J. Tampa could also push for playing time given his size, physical play and as someone whom the Ravens measured as faster in games than during his 40-yard dash and other drills. And with running back Keaton Mitchell’s timeline for return still uncertain after tearing his ACL in mid-December, fifth-round back Rasheen Ali could help spell Henry and provide a speedy option out of the backfield.

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