POISED TO BREAK OUT

Battle Plans POISED TO BREAK OUT

Posted in Battle Plans
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With training camp only 16 days away, there are many questions yet to be answered, subplots yet to unfold and stories yet to be told about the 2006 Baltimore Ravens. Among those issues is figuring out which players will breakthrough in what could be the most important season in the team’s short history. Every year, for every team, a few surprise players emerge into solid starters or contributors. Last season, the list of players who made a dent included Bart Scott, Maake Kemoeatu and Chester Taylor. Here are the prospects to pay attention to this season:
  • Daniel Wilcox (H-back/TE): The Ravens thought enough of Wilcox’s performance last year that they gave him a contract extension before free-agency started. In Jim Fassel’s two-tight end scheme, Wilcox is an ideal fit. He has good hands and can work inside of the hashes. In addition, the former practice squad performer does a nice job of gaining yards after contact. With the fullback’s role diminishing in the Ravens’ new look offense, Wilcox’s role will expand. He will be used in motion as the H-back, line up as a fullback or next to the right tackle depending on what play is called. From a statistical standpoint, Wilcox will not make much of an impact, but he will be an integral cog in the passing game as McNair’s intermediate safety valve.
  • Tony Pashos (RT): Pashos rotated at the right tackle position last season, but he was eventually able to wrestle the starting job away from aging Orlando Brown. Heading into camp, the job is Pashos’ to lose. He will face competition from Adam Terry, the Ravens’ second-round pick from the 2005 draft. Terry is converting from the left side, so he still needs to refine his technique and footwork in order to play on the right side. On the other hand, Pashos seems to be getting more and more comfortable playing on the strong side. Pashos lacks the quickness and footwork to dance with speed rushers, but he has a powerful punch, is strong and does a nice job of getting movement in run blocking situations.
  • Gerome Sapp (S): The former Indianapolis Colt was acquired three weeks ago, and he will be given the opportunity to start alongside Ed Reed when camp opens. However, Sapp will face competition from Dawan Landry and B.J. Ward at what appears to be the most wide open competition on the team. The Ravens brought back Sapp after releasing him two years ago. While the former defensive coaching staff was skeptical of Sapp’s ability to develop into a starter, it is clear that the staff headed by Rex Ryan believes in the special teams standout. Sapp is an intelligent safety who can play inside of the box. He will be counted on to support the run and inflict pain on receivers who catch passes in the middle of the field. In order for Sapp to become a more consistent player, he will need to improve his response time and ball skills in coverage.
  • Jason Brown (C/G): Although the Ravens may not publicly say anything, Brown will be given a fair chance to replace either Mike Flynn at the starting center position or Keydrick Vincent at right guard. In 2005, Brown made his only start of the season against the Denver Broncos and he was quite impressive in his debut. Although Brown lacks ideal quickness, he is strong and plays with flawless technique. He is rarely out of position and does a nice job of staying low. Brown could develop into a top notch run blocker at either center or guard. If Brown plays center, his natural position, he will need to get the timing of his snaps down with McNair, and make the line calls. While Brown called the protection schemes at North Carolina, he will have a tougher time making the right adjustments at the line-of-scrimmage in the NFL. For that reason, expect Mike Flynn to retain his position at the hub, but at some point, Brown will get on the field. He is too talented to stay on the bench.  
  • Mark Clayton (WR): Clayton came on strong at the end of the season, snagging 24 balls and gaining 316 yards in his last five games. With McNair on board, expect the sophomore wideout’s numbers to double. Clayton should end up catching close to 60 passes, while closing in on the 1,000-yard mark. While Clayton is the third option in the passing game, he is just as capable of taking over a game as Todd Heap or Derrick Mason. What makes Clayton so dangerous is his ability to run hard cutting routes, and gain yards after contact. Clayton does not possess deep speed, but he is extremely quick and shifty. Clayton also has a powerful, compact build, so he can break through arm tackles. The Ravens will need to use Clayton more in the slot than they did a year ago. He seems to be the perfect fit on the inside, because he understands how to exploit zone coverage and has the concentration to make tough catches in traffic. 

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Dev Panchwagh

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for Ravens24x7.com since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports journalist, but his contributions to sports talk radio were noticed, leading to duties as a regular columnist for the Scouts.com network before joining RSR.  It would be very difficult to find his rare combination of youthfulness, knowledge and insight in all facets of football anywhere else.  Fortunately, Dev brings it here each and every week.  More from Dev Panchwagh

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