OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The best news for the Ravens at the end of spring workouts was the avoidance of any serious injuries with the start of the 2019 campaign still almost three months away.
Few developments are more deflating than losing a key player or two for the season as Baltimore did two springs ago when cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta suffered serious injuries on back-to-back days.
All but five players on the offseason roster participated in all three days of mandatory minicamp this week, but one of the non-participants was 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has not yet been cleared to practice despite taking a couple reps in a position drill Wednesday that created some out-of-market media buzz. General manager Eric DeCosta said during the NFL draft that the organization “conservatively” projected Brown to be ready to practice by training camp after undergoing surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in January.
Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the speedy 22-year-old is not yet running at full speed on flat ground despite the agility work he began doing earlier this month, but he remains “hopeful” Brown will be ready to go when players report back to Owings Mills in late July. The Ravens drafted the former Oklahoma star to make an immediate play-making impact in an offense needing more speed.
“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”
In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari (back) missed all of this week’s three-day minicamp.
Lewis’ status remains unclear as he recovers from January shoulder surgery and wasn’t in the building for the voluntary offseason training program. It was a questionable decision for someone who has missed 28 games in his first three seasons and is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
The 2016 fourth-round pick has started 18 of his 20 career games and showed much promise in the past, but Harbaugh made it clear the competition for the starting left guard job is wide open this summer.
“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”
Pierce hasn’t been made available to reporters since being pulled off the field by Harbaugh Tuesday because of concerns about his weight and conditioning, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and safety Tony Jefferson were among those offering their support to the fourth-year defensive tackle in the midst of much disappointment this week.
“What I said to him and I said it in front of the whole defense, ‘Life is about choices. Just don’t make that choice make your life,’” Martindale said Wednesday. “He’s a dominant player, and he has a challenge to get from here until training camp to hit a certain stage. That’s [up] to the trainers and Eric and ‘Harbs’ on where they want him to be, and I know he’ll be there. I know he will.”
Safety Earl Thomas wasn’t making many splash plays in his first practices since fracturing his lower left leg for the second time in three years last September, but he showed his new team he’s recovered and ready to resume a brilliant career that’s featured six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship as part of Seattle’s dominant “Legion of Boom” defense. His challenge now is getting used to the complexity of Martindale’s system that puts responsibility on the players to make and communicate pre-snap adjustments.
The 30-year-old said he’s “in the right spot” physically and offered praise to Baltimore’s training staff for helping him get back into football shape.
“I have my days. But, for the most part, like today, you never want to get off the field when you’re feeling good,” said Thomas, who’s missed 19 regular-seasons games over the last three years. “I didn’t want to come out. Usually, I’ll take three reps a period, four reps, but I didn’t want to come out today. I felt really good. I’m just taking it day by day.”
The sight of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda taking part in mandatory minicamp has been a rarity in recent years because of a variety of injuries and offseason surgeries, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection said he never doubted he’d return for 2019 upon finishing last season healthy. Yanda, 34, signed a one-year contract extension through 2020 earlier this offseason, but he isn’t changing his mindset from last year when he acknowledged he was now viewing his career on a season-by-season basis.
“I’m healthy, I’m feeling really good about playing this fall, and I don’t look any further down the road,” Yanda said. “I’m worried about playing this fall and playing good football. The best thing is that I didn’t have to recover from an offseason surgery, so I didn’t have to rehab this offseason. I could lift and I could do some shoulder maintenance, but I didn’t have to get any range of motion back.”