Xavier McKinney found himself on the other end of the radio late in practice this week.
Rather than receiving the play-call from the defensive coordinator through the small speaker in his helmet, as he usually does, the third-year safety was on a walkie-talkie making and then delivering the defensive decision himself to the backup unit on the field. Daniel Jones was doing the same for the offense.
“It was cool,” McKinney said of the brief perspective as a play-caller.
It also served a purpose.
Coach Brian Daboll said he wants the players who run the huddles on the field — that primarily will be McKinney on defense and Jones on offense this year — to be able to think for themselves in case the radios to the sideline glitch (as they sometimes do).
“Now they have to take control and be able to operate and not panic and have all the hand gestures,” Daboll said. “Just go out and make sure you have a play in mind and be able to lead the team.”
That’s nothing out of the ordinary for a quarterback. For McKinney, it’s entirely new.
This is his first season running the defense on the field. It’s a job that traditionally falls to linebackers, but new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale prefers to give his calls to safeties.
To prepare McKinney for the responsibility Martindale even put him in touch with retired safety Eric Weddle, who ran the Ravens’ defense under Martindale from 2016-18.
“He helped me a lot, actually, with just kind of how to disguise certain things and how to be on the same page with Wink and things like that,” McKinney said of their virtual meetings, which included breaking down film and talking through situations. “We had good convo.”
McKinney said one of the hardest parts of the new task is lining up so far from the line of scrimmage as a safety.
“Being on the back end of it, you might have to run 30 yards and run back to get the play to everybody,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve had some hiccups here and there because it was new to everybody, but I think we’re good now. I’m making sure I’m still getting it to the ‘backers, and they’ll get it to the front. We’re working through it. Not too bad.”
As for those calls he made in practice when he was the coordinator for a few minutes? The defense nearly made a stop on the first snap but a questionable penalty led to a second play, on which the offense scored a touchdown.
“I could have called a better defense, but I called what I called, and things happen,” McKinney said. “It was fun, though.”
Notes & quotes: Rookie WR Wan’Dale Robinson was back on the field Friday, a day after suffering back spasms following a hit from teammate Aaron Robinson. Several players sat out Friday’s practice after requiring medical attention for heat and hydration issues at Thursday’s workout, including starting center Jon Feliciano and tight end Jordan Akins . . . A sloppy day for the offense was marred by three bad snaps from the backup centers and steady pressure from pass rushers. It was punctuated by a pick-6 by Darnay Holmes, who jumped a short pass to Wan’Dale Robinson. It was Holmes’ second interception of camp as the nickel back.