Emptying out the e-mail inbox as the Baltimore Ravens are set to square off with the Kansas City Chiefs in today’s season opener at M&T Bank Stadium.
1. What should we expect out of quarterback Joe Flacco in his second season?
Flacco had a commanding preseason, displaying encouraging signs that he’s not going to experience any kind of sophomore jinx. Flacco appears to be on top of his game as far as mechanics, accuracy and confidence.
If his supporting cast is up to the task, he should play even better this year after a promising rookie season where he helped boost the Ravens to the AFC championship game.
2. Is Tavares Gooden going to be as good as Bart Scott this year?
Gooden has a lot of potential to blossom as All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ partner at inside linebacker. He has speed, size and hitting ability. His instincts appear sound, but he’s a young player who has a lot to learn as far as diagnosing plays.
One drawback with young linebackers is a tendency to be overaggressive and overrun plays. Gooden has been working hard on fixing that aspect of his game. He’s not at Scott’s level yet, but he has the potential and athleticism to get there one day.
3. Are the Ravens going to be able to get by with four wide receivers?
The Ravens need at least one more reliable downfield target to go with Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Kelley Washington and Demetrius Williams. This is a competent, viable group, but they lack ideal speed and size.
There is no game breaking presence, just as there is no dynamic option currently unemployed that Baltimore can sign. What the Ravens need to bolster the depth is someone capable of filling in should an injury occur.
The Ravens have been exploring trade scenarios, but aren’t willing to trade away their young defensive talent. So, acquiring a Philadelphia Eagles receiver such as Reggie Brown or Hank Baskett doesn’t seem likely at this time. That can change quickly, though. David Tyree remains a possibility after trying out last week.
4. Should the Ravens be concerned about a lack of depth at tight end?
Yes, evidently they are somewhat worried. That’s why they tried out Tony Curtis and four other tight ends this week. With L.J. Smith dealing with a pulled hamstring, all the Ravens have on the roster as far as healthy tight ends is Todd Heap and converted outside linebacker Edgar Jones. They are one injury away from a real emergency. Practice squad tight end Isaac Smolko had better stay ready.
5. Is offensive guard Marshal Yanda recovered from his knee injury?
It hasn’t even been a full year since Yanda tore three knee ligaments against the Indianapolis Colts, so he’s way ahead of schedule. Yanda is expected to see action today behind Chris Chester. Yanda’s knee held up very well during the preseason and he’s expected to regain his starting spot at right guard eventually. Yanda has worked extremely hard at his rehabilitation exercises and is squatting more weight than he could before the injury.
6. Will free safety Ed Reed’s nerve impingement affect his play this season?
Reed has taken several precautions and has done everything possible to strengthen his neck and shoulders. He wasn’t as involved in blitz packages and run support last season because of the injury.
It’s something that Reed has said will continue to be a factor, but he’s determined to maintain his aggressive approach as much as possible. Expect Reed to mirror last season’s style of play where he thrived as a pure centerfielder who’s a constant threat to intercept the football.
7. How’s new kicker Steve Hauschka going to perform?
Honestly, no one knows how he’s going to fare during the regular season when he’s faced with pressure kicks in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. From the standpoint of what he’s done so far, Hauschka seems to have the raw material to succeed as the successor to Matt Stover. He has a strong leg, sound accuracy and a good attitude. He just needs experience and more confidence.
8. Is defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s knee or sprained ankle a big issue?
In a word, no. Both are regarded as minor injuries. Keep in mind that Ngata’s durability has never been a problem. He hasn’t missed a start in three NFL seasons and should be ready to dominate the line of scrimmage again this year.
9. How is nose guard Kelly Gregg doing medically after missing last season?
Gregg has made a sound recovery from microfracture knee surgery and seems to have regained his powerful leg drive and change of direction. During the preseason, he looked like his old self: active and tenacious.
10. Is rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher ready to start on the right side?
Yes, Oher is prepared for this. It’s not too big for him. He’s strong, tough and mobile. He just needs some technique work to add some polish. What you’ve got to like about Oher is that he’s a fast learner who never seems to be intimidated. That’s more than a positive start. That’s half the battle toward becoming a good offensive lineman.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.