Much of the focus for the Baltimore Ravens coming into training camp has been on the new-look wide receiver group. There’s veteran Odell Beckham Jr., who has been one of the star attractions during the first week of camp. There’s rookie first-round pick Zay Flowers making a strong early impression, and veteran Nelson Agholor providing depth and experience.
Of course, when discussing Lamar Jackson’s group of targets, nobody is forgetting about three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, either.
Yet, little has been said about second-year tight end Isaiah Likely, and he’s probably caught more footballs through the first week of training camp than anyone other than Andrews.
At Saturday’s stadium practice, Likely showed his big-play ability on a day when the offense was again struggling to create chunk plays. Likely got behind inside linebacker Kristian Welch for a big gain. Later, he slipped free of Roquan Smith, caught a Tyler Huntley pass and reached over the end zone.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) July 29, 2023
“High expectations for Isaiah Likely. Nothing but the highest,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a talented guy, works super hard. He had his best day today. He just works to get better every day. It should be a big year for him.”
A fourth-round pick in 2022 out of Coastal Carolina, Likely flashed as a rookie, catching 36 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. What he wasn’t able to do was maintain consistent production, although that probably said more about the state of the Ravens’ offense than how Likely was playing.
His two best games — he caught six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in Week 8 against Tampa Bay and had eight receptions for 103 yards in Week 17 versus Cincinnati — came when Andrews either didn’t play or left the game with an injury.
This year, the Ravens have talked about making sure Likely stays involved, even with a healthy Andrews and a much-improved receiving corps. Likely is familiar with how Todd Monken’s offense ran at the University of Georgia and has little doubt there will be opportunities for him to make plays, as long as he remains healthy and keeps improving.
“At Georgia, he used a two tight-end offense with (Darnell) Washington and (Brock) Bowers. Georgia had great receivers, too,” Likely said following Saturday’s practice. “Here, we have great receivers and you still have Mark and me and Charlie (Kolar) in the offense. Having that many people that can hurt a defense can really do wonders.”
So can confidence, and that’s something Likely developed more as his rookie season progressed. He had a really good training camp and preseason, but it still took some time to develop a comfort level with his place in the Ravens’ offense.
As he reflected back on his rookie year this offseason, he didn’t feel any skepticism about where he stood and what his role was and would become. He just focused on improving, and part of that process was attending Tight End University, the offseason camp put on by star tight ends Travis Kelce and George Kittle and former tight end Greg Olsen.
“As a rookie, you’re always just trying to find your place, whether it’s in the offense or just getting on the field,” Likely said. “As you start playing more and you start running with the offense, you start seeing that you’re here for a reason. I feel like that’s something I noticed in the offseason. I’m here and I’m showing that I belong.”
Likely was one of the practice standouts Saturday, but there were other highlights:
• Flowers was the only Raven eligible to practice who wasn’t participating Saturday. It was the second straight missed practice for the first-round rookie who is dealing with a stomach illness, Harbaugh said. Harbaugh is hopeful Flowers will practice Monday. Otherwise, running back J.K. Dobbins (undisclosed), fullback Patrick Ricard (hip), wide receiver Rashod Bateman (foot) and cornerback Damarion Williams (ankle) remained on the physically unable to perform list, and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (knee) remained on the non-football injury list. Harbaugh said Williams has a chance to be activated and practice Monday.
• Cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who was released by the Ravens Friday for failing to disclose an injury, re-signed with the team a day later and was in the locker room following Saturday’s practice. Mullen has been dealing with a foot/toe injury. The type of contract Mullen previously had wasn’t the type of deal the team could renegotiate. So Baltimore took the step of releasing him and re-signing him to a contract that offers the team a little more protection in case Mullen’s injury lingers. His first order of business will be getting healthy.
• Beckham got one of the loudest ovations from the crowd when he jogged onto the field for the start of practice. He then created two of the afternoon’s biggest highlights. Jackson rolled out and lofted a pass to Beckham as the receiver, who had a step on Marlon Humphrey, took it in for the touchdown. Rookie left guard Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu was called for holding Michael Pierce on the play, negating the score. That hardly mattered to the crowd. Beckham also made a diving catch of a Jackson pass along the sideline.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) July 29, 2023
• Aumavae-Laulu, the sixth-round pick from Oregon who is getting the first opportunity to state his case for the starting left guard job, had a difficult day dealing with the Ravens’ starting defensive interior. He was hardly alone. Baltimore got a lot of pressure on Jackson and the Ravens’ other quarterbacks throughout practice with Pierce and Justin Madubuike, in particular, creating problems.
• Second-year nose tackle Travis Jones also gave veteran center Sam Mustipher all he could handle during one-on-one drills between pass rushers and offensive linemen. Jones and Mustipher matched up three consecutive times. Mustipher battled but gave significant ground on two of the reps.
• The last few practices have been a struggle for the Ravens offensively, and that trend continued in the early portion of the stadium session. In the opening red zone period, the Ravens weren’t able to score. The closest they came was Huntley hitting Tylan Wallace right outside of the end zone. Wallace had the ball yanked out of his hands by cornerback Arthur Maulet, but it came loose well after the play.
• On the first full-team, full-field segment, Jackson’s first pass was swatted away by Pierce. On the next play, Jackson was chased out of the pocket by Madubuike and David Ojabo, and the play was blown dead before the quarterback was officially sacked. A few plays later, Jackson bounced a pass between Agholor and James Proche II. It wasn’t clear who the intended receiver was.
• For a significant chunk of practice, Jackson struggled to get anything going. That’s partly because he spent much of the day trying to avoid incoming rushers. On one play, the pocket collapsed and Jackson was surrounded by three defensive players. He ultimately got out of there and Ojabo chased him about 20 yards downfield.
• Jackson did finish strong. That included finding Andrews for a touchdown. It was a typical Jackson-Andrews connection. Jackson held on to the ball long enough and bought time for Andrews, who was initially covered by Smith. Andrews kept working, though, and found an opening between Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton, and Jackson delivered the pass.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) July 29, 2023
• Huntley may have had his best practice so far this summer. After the initial struggles of the first-team offense in full-team work, Huntley hit Likely and Wallace to get downfield. Later in practice, Huntley connected with Tarik Black for a deep back-shoulder throw in front of rookie cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly. Black, who played his college ball at Michigan and Texas and had stints with the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets as an undrafted free agent, seemingly makes one or two plays every practice. He still might be considered a roster long shot given the team’s depth at wide receiver, but he’s stacking some good days.
• The list of former Ravens in attendance at the practice included fullback Vonta Leach, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Jimmy Smith.
• Baltimore announced attendance for the open practice at 19,217. The team has its first day off of training camp Sunday. Monday will be the first padded practice.
(Photo: Todd Olszewski / Getty Images)