The Ravens know they have a stud workhorse in veteran Pro Bowler Mark Ingram II, but don’t expect to see intriguing rookie running back J.K. Dobbins riding the bench.
The challenge for rookies to make a big impact is even greater this year because of the missed practice time due to COVID-19. Dobbins, however, has shown so far that it won’t hold him back.
Dobbins impressed his coaches with the way he learned the offense in virtual meetings, and once he stepped on the field for training camp, it became clear that the Ravens had something special with the second-round pick out of Ohio State.
“He’s definitely going to have probably a significant role,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. “But again, it comes down to how it goes.
“He’s looked really good in practice. He works really hard. He’s just the most coachable guy. He has a lot of talent, and he’s very coachable. So, he wants to be good, he wants to play. He’s confident. Confidence plus coachability plus talent; it’s a pretty good combination.”
It’s more difficult to tell how rookies will do in games, especially early in the season, because of the lost practices and no preseason games. The Ravens held a scrimmage at M&T Bank Stadium to simulate game-like conditions, but it’s not quite the same.
Coming off a season in which the Ravens broke a 41-year-old rushing record, there’s no shortage of options in the backfield. With Ingram, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill in the same room, Dobbins has time to get his legs under him and develop.
But his talent is so undeniable that the Ravens will find ways to utilize him immediately, and that’s music to Dobbins’ ears.
“My thing is just keep going hard and the chips will fall into place,” Dobbins said. “Of course, I’m not going to be patient. I’m working as hard as I can to play, get on the field and help this team win.
“I feel like I’ve been preparing well for this first game. Hopefully, I can get in there and make some plays.”
Dobbins has flashed a lot of different aspects of his game in training camp. He’s got lightning fast feet, speed to break long runs, power and feistiness as a runner and blocker, and is smooth out of the backfield as a pass catcher.
Dobbins didn’t want to talk about a different dynamic that he’ll add to the Ravens’ running back rotation because that would assume that something was missing. But the rookie did say people may be sleeping on his receiving ability.
Dobbins rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season and broke the 1,000-yard mark all three years at Ohio State. He also averaged 24 catches for 215 yards per year and scored five receiving touchdowns.
Dobbins has made some highlight-reel plays during practices, but it’s behind-the-scenes work that has impressed Running Backs Coach Matt Weiss the most.
“I think every day, his athleticism, his physicality, his vision – all the things that make a great running back – show up on the field,” Weiss said. “I think honestly, though, I’ve been even more impressed with his mindset, of his make-up, which is really his competitiveness, his work ethic. He’s kind of wired a little bit differently.”
When Dobbins arrived for the ramp-up period of training camp, Weiss stressed to Dobbins that hard work in the weight room was important in Baltimore. Dobbins said that wouldn’t be a problem.
“I hear from people that he’s in the weight room doing the workouts just talking trash to the strength coaches nonstop,” Weiss said. “I knew that they secretly loved it, but I asked him, ‘J.K., why do you do that? I mean, these are the guys telling you how much weight to put on the bar, how many reps to do. Why would you go in there and talk trash? That’s just going to make your workout harder.'”
Yeah, that was the point.
“The more I talk, the more they push me,” Dobbins said.