The Ravens’ quarterback battle isn’t the only one worth watching

Street Talk The Ravens’ quarterback battle isn’t the only one worth watching

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If anyone chooses to avert the inevitable staredown at the Baltimore Ravens’ trio of quarterbacks, a quick perusal will reveal that it’s not the only training camp competition at McDaniel College.

Over the next three weeks, every pass and audible will be heavily scrutinized with Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco vying for the starting job under center.

At this stage, it’s the only true starting position that has been declared up for grabs. However, it’s far from the only pivotal evaluation the coaching staff will conduct in Westminster.

Following an offseason where the Ravens traded for former Oakland Raiders cornerback Fabian Washington and signed cornerbacks Frank Walker and Lenny Walls, Washington is the clubhouse leader at nickel back.

Washington is a speedy former first-round draft pick who lost his starting job last season due to tackling and personal issues. Walker was slated to be the Green Bay Packers’ nickel back, but was eventually replaced and wound up excelling as a punt gunner.

One of the NFL’s tallest cornerbacks at 6-foot-4, 197 pounds, Walls was released by the St. Louis Rams after starting a few games last season and has bounced around the league in recent years.

If starter Samari Rolle has health issues like last season when he was diagnosed with epilepsy, Washington is the top candidate to replace him in the lineup.

Several players, including Corey Ivy, Derrick Martin, Ronnie Prude and David Pittman as well as the newcomers, are competing for snaps in the Ravens’ dime package and roster spots. Ivy is the most experienced and accomplished returning backup.

Due to the acquisitions of so many veterans and the well-documented struggles of the reserve cornerbacks last season when Chris McAlister and Rolle were sidelined, change is afoot in the secondary. Nothing is guaranteed to players like Pittman, a former third-round draft pick who has been slow to develop.

Rookie safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are competing with veteran Jim Leonhard, an undersized special-teams standout, for the third safety job behind starters Ed Reed and Dawan Landry.

Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes has impressed the coaching staff with his all-around improvement and aggressiveness during minicamps and could create a pass-rushing niche on third downs. 

Listed at 6-1, 240-pounds, Barnes has bulked up an additional 10 pounds while retaining his speed and is under consideration for some work in the base defense if he improves his pass-coverage skills. Oft-injured former second-round pick Dan Cody, if he can remain healthy, represents another option as a situational pass rusher.

Depending on how the initial configuration of the offensive line fares with Jared Gaither at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Jason Brown at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Adam Terry at right tackle, the Ravens could potentially face some tough decisions upfront.

If Gaither, 22, makes a smooth transition as he tries to replace future Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden, who retired, and Terry, a natural left tackle, is solid on the right side, then the Ravens should be set. If either player falters, then things could get complicated.

That could trigger another line shuffle with Terry possibly moving back to the left side and either Yanda, who has shifted to guard after starting at right tackle as a rookie, or third-round draft pick Oniel Cousins playing right tackle.

Behind featured back Willis McGahee and shifty rookie Ray Rice, Cory Ross, P.J. Daniels and Allen Patrick are trying to win the third running back job. The diminutive Ross had a career-high 72 rushing yards with one touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season finale last year. He has gotten more playing time in the offseason than Daniels and Patrick.

At wide receiver, Demetrius Williams represents the Ravens’ top hope for a deep threat and he’ll try to push starter Mark Clayton for playing time. Rookie wideouts Justin Harper and Marcus Smith are possible red-zone candidates.

In the kicking game, return specialist Yamon Figurs has elite sprinting speed. However, he must prove to the new coaching staff that he can hang onto the football to ease concerns about utilizing him as the full-time punt and kickoff returner.

Rice will get a long look on kickoff returns, and Ed Reed is always a dangerous, albeit unpredictable emergency option on punts.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson

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