(Updated Thursday 12:15 p.m.)
With 18 players absent from Wednesday’s voluntary organized team activity, it was difficult to draw many conclusions from what we saw on the practice field in Owings Mills.
In regards to the decline in attendance from last week when only seven players were absent, head coach John Harbaugh and the rest of the staff would love to see all players present, but the union fought hard for a shorter off-season program and reform in the structure of OTAs. After several veterans blew the whistle on Harbaugh and the Ravens a couple years ago, the head coach was very careful to make sure the OTA schedule was in compliance with the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement.
It’s not surprising to see veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed skipping the voluntary workouts — these activities are designed for learning more than anything — but I didn’t expect to see second-year players such as Jimmy Smith, Jah Reid, and Pernell McPhee missing from the field during Wednesday’s workout. Considering Reid and Smith are competing for starting jobs and McPhee is expecting to see an increased role along the defensive line, I have to question how wise it was for them to be absent while their strongest competitors were all present on Wednesday.
Of course, there are unique circumstances that might prevent a given player from being at OTAs — and the possibility exists that any of these players might have been dealing with some sort of injury — so it would be unfair to judge the aforementioned players too harshly without knowing the full story. The workouts are voluntary, but Harbaugh and the coaching staff will certainly remember who didn’t attend all workouts, especially if any of these players struggle during the mandatory minicamp next month or in training camp.
> Veteran center Matt Birk returned to the practice field after being absent last week, right guard Marshal Yanda and left tackle Bryant McKinnie were not present on Wednesday, leaving a patchwork offensive line to run with the rest of the starting offense.
As previously mentioned, Reid was also absent and rookie offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele missed most of Wednesday’s practice with an undisclosed injury. The result was an offensive line featuring Michael Oher at left tackle and third-year tackle Ramon Harewood on the right side, Justin Boren and Jack Cornell as the guards, and Birk at center — not exactly the line you envision when the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season opener.
Harewood struggled mightily at times, jumping early on a couple occasions and being flagged for holding defensive end Arthur Jones at one point during full-team drills. The 6-foot-6, 340-pound tackle from Morehouse had limited football experiences prior to being taken in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, meaning the last two seasons spent on injured reserve have done little for his development. Harewood admits to needing time to knock off rust in getting back on the practice field, but he figures to face an uphill battle in making the 53-man roster this summer and his performance through two weeks of OTAs hasn’t impressed many.
> Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg is excited about the addition of veteran return specialist Jacoby Jones as a major factor in returning both kickoffs and punts, but the sixth-year receiver has struggled at wide receiver, dropping a number of passes from quarterback Joe Flacco in two practices open to the media.
Jones does provide a veteran option at the No. 3 receiver spot behind starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but there was a reason why the Houston Texans parted ways with him earlier this off-season. He caught 127 passes and 11 touchdowns in five seasons with Houston, but Jones was often criticized for not having reliable hands and never firmly established himself as a consistent target despite his 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame.
There’s no question Jones can be a nice addition to a Baltimore offense that essentially didn’t have a third receiver last season — unless you count tight end Dennis Pitta, who often lined up in the slot — but as I wrote the day he agreed to terms on a two-year, $7 million contract, fans should temper their expectations of what the 27-year-old can bring as a wide receiver. Regardless of how Jones fares as a receiver, his speed should be a welcome addition to a return game that was largely stagnant in 2011.
> Second-year receiver LaQuan Williams was impressive on Wednesday, catching nearly everything thrown his way over the course of the two-hour practice. Williams made a one-handed catch at one point and hauled in a pass on a fade route inside the red zone.