Ravens coach John Harbaugh was baffled by one line of criticism he saw coming out of the team’s Saturday evening practice at M&T Bank Stadium.
First-round draft pick Kyle Hamilton could not stay with rookie free agent Bailey Gaither during a one-on-one coverage drill, a lapse that drew plenty of attention as fans and analysts dissected the most widely watched practice of training camp.
“Someone gave the opinion that he’s a limited guy who’s got to play in the box because they saw him try to cover a guy who ran like a 10.4-[second] 100 meters,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We’re not going to match him up against a 10.4 100-meter guy, but he played man [coverage] today pretty good, as you saw.”
Harbaugh does not generally bring up outside critiques of his players just so he can swat them down, but the negative appraisal of Hamilton based on a few practice plays struck him as particularly misguided. The rookie thrived in more subtle ways Saturday night, spinning off a block to jam up an outside run and creating confusion for the offense with his presnap positioning.
“He’s going to be very versatile; he’s going to play a lot of different spots,” Harbaugh said, going out of his way to place the rookie’s performance in broader context.
This was always the selling point for Hamilton, whose 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame sets him apart from his fellow defensive backs in more ways than one. Where he might cover more ground and make more impact at the line of scrimmage than a smaller safety, he’s perhaps less suited to blanket a quick slot receiver.
Hamilton took the criticism with good humor, noting on Twitter that he was “getting fried on this app.”
The former Notre Dame All-American has spent the first week of training camp adjusting to NFL speed and learning to make the most of practice reps he receives behind starting safeties Chuck Clark and Marcus Williams.
“I make a new mistake every day, and I’m just trying to fix it,” he said. “A lot of this game is mental. You’ve got to be locked in, tuned in on the sideline, know what call is being run out there and just try to get mental reps. I’m still getting a good amount of reps, getting a good workout in for sure, but the guys keep me up to date with how they’re playing it, how the [starters] are playing it, and I try to come in and emulate what they’re doing. So I think it’s been good, even though I’m not technically a [starter].”
The Ravens used their first pick on Hamilton despite the fact they already had two starters at safety, creating a potentially awkward situation with Clark, one of the most respected players on defense. The incumbent starter has not spoken to reporters since the draft, though he has been a typically reliable presence at workouts and practices.
Hamilton, meanwhile, made strong first impressions on teammates and coaches during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, but defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said he’s working to regain his momentum in training camp.
“The thing with Kyle is, I don’t think he left off from where he was in the spring,” Macdonald noted last week. “Sometimes that happens with rookies; they take a little dip and need to get caught back up. I keep saying the word trajectory, but he just keeps learning, keeps communicating. He’s a very sharp, very smart player, obviously plays fast. He can cover a ton of ground. We have great players back there, too. So, he has to earn his way onto the field.”
The fretting over Hamilton’s one-on-one performance touched on a broader point about training camp. The individual battles between pass catchers and defensive backs are the flashiest components of practice. It’s easy for fans to erupt when a wide receiver makes a contested catch or to gasp when a defender is left stumbling. But these moments offer limited insight to a player’s overall performance.
“That’s one of those drills where the defense is wearing the ankle weights,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no pass rush. There’s nobody in the quarterback’s face. They have a little bit more time to throw; they’re not under pressure, which they would be. That’s a zero-man type of scenario, so it’s toughest on the [defensive backs]. If a [defensive back] gets a win there, it’s a beautiful moment.”
Preseason, Week 1
Thursday, Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM