OWINGS MILLS -- At one point during the Ravens OTA workout May 31, quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back and effortlessly aired out about a 30-yard pass that wide receiver John Brown caught with a sliding grab at the back of the end zone. The official ruled the pass incomplete, saying Brown was out of bounds as he came down with the ball. But the pass play underscored how a healthy Flacco and his new receiver corps are emphasizing the deep ball this spring.
"Someone kind of joked in my ear that we completed more deep balls at practice today than we did the whole offseason last year," head coach John Harbaugh said after the team's workout. "Of course, Joe wasn't a part of that last [training camp]. I think it's got to be a big part of what we do. … Every one of our quarterbacks has a reputation for throwing the ball deep."
Flacco, who missed all of training camp last season with a back injury, appears fit and healthier than he did last season, and in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, the balls are flying downfield to a revamped receiver group that includes Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead as the most notable newcomers.
During the May 31 workout, Chris Moore, one of the top returning receivers, made a beautiful one-handed grab after battling with cornerback Brandon Carr down the right sideline, and receiver Breshad Perriman caught one deep ball but had another one glance off his fingertips as he ran stride for stride with cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
A commitment to taking deep shots would be a welcome addition to an offense that ranked last in the league in passing yards per play (5.10).
Here are some other observations from the May 31 workout:
1. Lewis Gets A Look At Center
The Ravens are experimenting with Alex Lewis at center, and he worked with the first unit. He had played left guard last week, with Matt Skura at center. This time, Lewis got the starter's work at center as the Ravens seek to replace Ryan Jensen. With Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda still on the mend and sitting out OTAs, the remainder of the starting line included Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, James Hurst at left guard, Skura at right guard and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle.
"I think this is the time to kind of experiment," Harbaugh said. "You're going to need your guards to be able to play backup center anyway. So we've got to get Alex that work anyway, but if it evolves into something bigger than that, then that's great. … You just kind of see how it goes, and see what your best combinations are."
2. Is This The Year The Ravens Keep Three QBs?
So much focus has been spent on rookie Lamar Jackson, but at this stage he seems to be well behind Flacco and Robert Griffin III as a thrower. Both Flacco and Griffin threw the ball very well at the May 31 workout, and Griffin looks increasingly comfortable with the Ravens' offense after joining the team a month ago.
During individual drills, Jackson misfired on an out route to Moore, and he also threw low to rookie Jordan Lasley. In a late-game situational drill, with the Ravens trying to run one play before a field-goal try, Jackson was at quarterback with six seconds left. Rather than make a quick throw, he rolled out and ultimately threw the ball away, but the time appeared to have run out. That's the kind of decision-making and game awareness that will come with time. Yet Jackson brings such dynamic ability that it's conceivable the Ravens will keep Griffin as a top backup and Jackson as an occasional multipurpose threat while he continues to develop as an NFL passer. The Ravens have not kept three quarterbacks on the original 53-man roster since 2009.
3. Mixed Day For Receivers
Moore shined with a pair of standout catches, a one-handed grab on a bomb from Flacco in which he fought off coverage from Brandon Carr and another in which he leaped in traffic and hauled in a catch during a red zone drill. Snead also managed to get open and make several catches in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills, and it's easy to see him being a major part of this offense from the slot. On the other hand, rookie receiver Jordan Lasley struggled with three drops during individual drills.
4. Larger Role For Clark?
With veteran Anthony Levine recovering from a foot injury, second-year defensive back Chuck Clark got a lot of work with the starters in the dime package that had been one of Levine's roles last year. Tony Jefferson was working at the dime spot May 31, with Clark playing safety. Clark appeared in 15 games last season, with his defensive workload increasing late in the year. He totaled five tackles and a pair of pass breakups.
NOTES: Veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley was back on the field after missing the May 24 workout that was open to the media with an ankle injury. … Notable players who remain sidelined while recovering from injuries include Yanda, Levine, cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) and linebacker Albert McClellan (knee). … Tim White, who flashed as an undrafted rookie last year, is among those working at punt returner, and that is his best chance to claim a roster spot with a receiver group that appears to be deeper and more talented than a year ago. … It's easy to see why Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta compared rookie tight end Mark Andrews to Dennis Pitta. They play with a very similar style, and the Ravens would likely be thrilled with similar production.