Earl Thomas provides first big practice highlight with Ravens

July 31, 2019 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Early practices had mostly looked like a feeling out process for new Ravens safety Earl Thomas.

In addition to returning from a fractured lower left leg suffered last fall, Thomas has acknowledged a learning curve with Wink Martindale’s complex defensive system after nearly a decade of running mostly Cover 3 looks with Seattle. That’s not to say there was any reason for concern this early in training camp, but the six-time Pro Bowl safety had yet to really make a splash play to remind why the Ravens gave him a four-year, $55 million contract that included $32 million guaranteed in March.

That changed Wednesday morning with Thomas breaking in a flash on a Lamar Jackson pass intended for slot receiver Willie Snead over the middle and returning the interception for a long touchdown. Thomas played to the crowd in celebration after his return and flashed the same play-making ability that made him the NFL’s best safety since former Raven Ed Reed, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

“He caught it so in stride [that] I thought he was a receiver at first,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “But I think that’s going to be the story this year — Earl making plays, the whole secondary just flying to the ball. That got me going. I said on Twitter the other day, the energy he brings, I can just already tell. I cannot wait to be on the field with him.”

Already sporting one of the league’s deepest and best secondaries last season, the Ravens identified Thomas as a way to take the group to another level after parting with former Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle. Viewed as a clear upgrade from the 34-year-old Weddle from a physical standpoint, Thomas, 30, is looking more and more comfortable in his new surroundings after a quiet spring.

That was evident when Thomas broke in front of Snead for the highlight pick.

“I think the communication has been smoother and better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Hey, he’s in this defense for the first time. These are new calls for him, but they’re also football. They’re football calls and he understands football, so he’s picking it up really quickly and doing a great job.”

Roster shuffling

Quarterback Joe Callahan made his Ravens practice debut in the wake of the thumb injury sustained by backup Robert Griffin III last weekend.

Callahan, 26, was coached by offensive coordinator Greg Roman at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J. 11 years ago and will share the reps behind Jackson with sixth-round rookie Trace McSorley. The journeyman quarterback has spent time with Green Bay, New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay since going undrafted from Division III Wesley in 2016 and has appeared in just one regular-season game in his NFL career.

“Greg takes full credit for his career by the way,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “Not really. He moved him from safety to quarterback. He said, ‘This kid can really throw. Let’s give him a shot.’ They won the state championship that year in New Jersey, so that was a good one.”

The Ravens also signed linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who spent part of the 2017 season on their practice squad and has appeared in 23 games with the Los Angeles Rams, New England, and Detroit, mostly in a special-teams capacity. Grigsby took the roster spot of wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who was waived just a year after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.

Wednesday’s attendance report

Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown’s practice debut drew the attention, but nickel cornerback Tavon Young and guard Jermaine Eluemunor returned to the field after missing two straight practices with minor muscle issues.

Both Eluemunor and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. took some snaps with the first-team offense after being relegated to the second string for failing the conditioning test at the start of training camp. Eluemunor split reps with rookie Ben Powers at left guard while Brown shared time with veteran James Hurst.

Harbaugh said veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith was excused from practice to take care of “a family-business situation” Wednesday. Offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius also remained absent from practice.