OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have benefited from superb health so far in the preseason and welcomed back two of their few recent absentees to the practice field on Monday.
Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and tight end Maxx Williams both missed last week’s preseason win against the Los Angeles Rams, but they participated in Monday’s workout on a limited basis. While Williams missed less than a week of action after an apparent ankle injury in one of the joint practices with the Rams, Bowser has missed much of training camp with a groin injury originally sustained on July 27. He returned to practice for a few days after missing the preseason opener on Aug. 2, but he was soon forced to the sideline again.
“It just doesn’t feel like he’s at 100 percent right now,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Sunday. “But he needs to get back out there. The competition is starting to heat up.”
The 2017 second-round pick is hardly in danger of not making the 53-man roster, but his quest to earn more playing time behind starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon has been hindered by his absence as well as the strong preseason play of Kamalei Correa and Tim Williams. Bowser played more defensive snaps than both Correa and Williams in 2017 and was having a strong start to camp before the injury, but Correa’s move to outside linebacker has only increased the competition for rotation reps among the young outside linebackers.
Williams, a 2017 third-round pick from Alabama, was arguably the best defensive player on the field for the Ravens against the Rams, finishing with a sack, a forced fumble, and five tackles. The situational rusher has made substantial improvement from last season when he was largely a non-factor and active for just eight games.
“It’s a mental toll just as much as it is a physical toll when they’re rookies,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Some can push through it and some can’t. I think he has seen what it takes to be a Raven now, Tim has. We’re really excited for him because, as you saw, he can rush off the edge now.”
Unlike Bowser, Maxx Williams is not a lock to make the roster as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Injuries have prevented the 2015 second-round pick from living up to once-lofty expectations, but the Minnesota product carved out a role as a blocker frequently lining up as a fullback last season.
Already unofficially fourth in the pecking order behind 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst, blocking tight end Nick Boyle, and rookie third-rounder Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams was already competing with special-teams standout Vince Mayle for a possible fourth tight end spot before the return of Darren Waller from suspension last week. Waller faces quite a climb to secure a spot on the 53-man roster — he does have practice-squad eligibility — but his athleticism is undeniable and he provides more upside and team control.
Head coach John Harbaugh made it clear Waller has a long way to go to earn back the organization’s trust after being suspended for the entire 2017 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The 2015 sixth-round pick has been open in the past about using marijuana and confirmed that was the reason for his four-game suspension in his second season.
“Where’s he been? You have to be here,” Harbaugh said after Waller’s first practice on Saturday. “You don’t just come waltzing in and all of the sudden, you’re the starting tight end. You have to prove it. You have to do some things for us. You have to make plays. I love him, but like I told him, I’m going to be the hardest guy on him of anybody. I’m going to be on him every single day because he has a lot to prove.”
One of the more intriguing position battles of the summer continues to be at the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to starter C.J. Mosley. Incumbent Patrick Onwuasor entered the preseason as the favorite to start, but rookie fourth-round pick Kenny Young has closed the gap and has recently begun receiving some first-team snaps. Onwuasor did the same thing to Correa last summer and unseated him as the starter early in the 2017 season.
Young made one of the highlight plays of Monday’s practice, intercepting a short Joe Flacco pass intended for slot receiver Willie Snead.
“I still think it’s an even competition,” Martindale said. “Right now, I don’t like to say I don’t care, but it doesn’t bother me who starts between the two of them and [we might] rotate them back and forth. You’re going to have a really good linebacker in that situation, and somebody will eventually take that job over. You’ll see it. I just don’t know who to bet on yet.”
Suggs received a veteran day off on Monday while linebacker Alvin Jones and defensive back Bennett Jackson were absent with undisclosed injuries. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps) remain on the physically unable to perform list.
Young wasn’t the only defensive player to shine Monday as cornerback Brandon Carr and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard returned interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays during an 11-on-11 period. Carr picked off a Robert Griffin III pass intended for tight end Nick Keizer while Ricard grabbed a Josh Woodrum pass that was batted up in the air by defensive end Brent Urban.
Flacco shook off the Young interception by throwing a 50-plus-yard completion to Chris Moore. The ball traveled more than 60 yards in the air as Flacco heaved it from one side of the field to the other, an impressive toss even for a quarterback known for having no shortage of arm strength.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 13, 2018