Mike Preston’s Ravens observations on rookie TE Isaiah likely to dominate Cardinals and more

Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely has added intrigue and perhaps a new dimension to the Ravens’ offense.

The fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina turned in a strong second performance Baltimore’s 24-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night with eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown while playing only the first half.

Likely has 12 catches for 144 yards in two preseason contests, but perhaps the most impressive part of his game is the yards he gets after the catch. He had 53 against the Cardinals, which doesn’t happen often for the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder.

“Everybody wants to be able to catch the ball, but it’s what you can do after that catch,” Likely said. “And that’s what I preach, whether it’s in games or practice. Just just getting that blast in practice [and] feel in the game, so when I enter the game, it’s not the first time I’ve done it. It’s repetition, it’s consistency.”

The Ravens have been working hard to modify and improve the offense with a focus on two tight ends, because that was the foundation when quarterback Lamar Jackson became the NFL’s most valuable player in 2019 with tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst.

His biggest issue is probably his blocking ability, which many young tight ends struggle with during their rookie seasons, but putting him opposite Andrews will create a lot of problems.

This forces the defense to balance where it becomes difficult to overload the side, and having Andrews or Likely match up outside of the one-on-one creates a lot of mismatches.

Regardless of Likely’s potential impact, the Ravens still need an effective receiver to develop on the outside and open up the middle of the field. The Ravens got a lot of support from veteran tight end Nick Boyle, who got plenty of playing time and performed well as a blocker. If he can stay healthy, it just gives the offense another dimension on the power football.

James struggles

Left tackle Ja’Wuan James hasn’t been impressive in two games, and he’s struggled with the Cardinals against speedy and strong picks while in pass protection.

He was lucky Arizona used quarterback Victor Dimukeje (Boys, Latin) sparingly, or he would have been in for a long night.

The Ravens need to get Ronnie Stanley back as soon as possible to anchor the scoring in the season opener against the New York Jets on September 11th.

Catching the Web

The Citadel’s Raleigh Webb is my favorite rookie small receiver to keep an eye on.

Few people talk about him, but he continues to hustle to make the list. He had two catches for 46 yards, including one for a 38-yard touchdown, and another reception of about 15 yards was nullified due to a penalty.

He is a good blocker in a run-oriented offense and plays well on special teams. He’s the perfect candidate for the job, and I’d bet New England coach Bill Belichick or Los Angeles Rams Sean McVay could take a look at him if he doesn’t end up in Baltimore.

Transfer peak potential

Like the Ravens, the Cardinals haven’t played much in the starting lineup, but there have been signs of hope that Baltimore can pressure opposing quarterbacks this season.

Second-year outside linebacker Odafe Owe has gotten a lot better with his hands and improved his hand speed, and the Ravens have gotten some pressure under center with rookie Travis Jones.

This is a big development for this team. There is a dire need to find a player in the middle of the line who can make a quarterback move or step into the pocket when dropped back.

The Ravens haven’t had a better pass rusher since Sam Adams at the turn of the century. Haloti Ngata was effective but more as a stopper.

Pepe is in position

There are some defensive players who really have a nose for the ball, and rookie cornerback Demarion “Pepe” Williams is one of them. And he will let you know when he plays; there were times when he strutted like NBC’s Peacock in practice.

Williams picked off Trace McSorley’s pass, and it wasn’t because he made a great play, it was because he was exactly where he was supposed to be in zone coverage and McSorley made a bad pass.

As former Baltimore Blast coach Kenny Cooper used to say, “You have to be in position to be in position.”

This is Williams.

Phillips penalty

Memo to left guard Tyro Phillips: You can’t be a starter with three penalties, two for false starts and another for being an illegal lineman on the field.

Penalties are part of the game, and some, like pass interference or facemasks, are more acceptable, but coaches are annoyed by pre-snap checks. Obviously, they can be avoided.

A great performance

One of the keys to the Ravens’ success in drafting players is that they at least look like good athletes.

Former Ravens player Sam Koch was 6-1 and 220 pounds, a former tight end and linebacker at his Nebraska high school. Opposing teams very rarely returned punts for a touchdown against the Ravens because Koch, while a great player, was also a good rebounder and athlete.

Freshman Jordan Stout is 6-3, 210 pounds. I don’t know if it’s as athletic as Koch was, but there’s not a lot of fat on that frame. Against the Cardinals, he averaged 51.3 yards per three punts, including a long of 58.

He can also score extra points and kick off.

Time to step up

I wasn’t too impressed with the play of quarterbacks Christian Welch or Malik Harrison. Harrison, a third-year player, improved as the game went on and finished with five tackles.

Another player who seemed to come on late or missing was quarterback Brandon Stevens. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness early and allowed a first down completion on third-and-long. Later in the game, he received a pass interference penalty that cost the Ravens 37 yards.


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