Preseason power rankings, predictions, expectations, etc, etc…add it all up and it’s nothing more than something to talk about, something to read about, something to debate.
The offseason is loaded with this banal blathering and fans eat it up because there’s nothing on the field to observe, analyze or critique.
Does anyone really think that the NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes can forecast the 2010-11 season measurably better than Joe Blow at The Gridiron Bar & Grill? A monkey plucking ping pong balls from a lottery dispenser has nearly as good a chance of success as Dukes – perhaps better!
And really this isn’t meant to be a knock on Dukes but rather a knock on all of the predictions. They are about as useful as Mel Kiper predicting the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft TODAY!
More interesting than these predictions are the projected training camp battles that lie ahead for the Ravens. Let’s take a quick look at those that shape up to be the most interesting.
1. The primary secondary bouts: The 2009 emergence of Tom Zbikowski; the second half rally last season by Dawan Landry; the return of Haruki Nakamura; and the addition of Ken “Hammerin’” Hamlin make for an interesting battle for the starting slot next to a healthy Ed Reed…At corner, knock him if you want but Chris Carr came on strong late in ’09 (see playoff game v. New England). Mix him in along with newcomers Travis Fisher and Walt Harris along with oft forgotten Cary Williams and this promises to be a heated competition for the CB slot opposite Domonique Foxworth. Should they step up and should Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb return from injuries sooner than expected then the heat index really skyrockets on these bouts. Could the camp battles even push Foxworth down a notch on the depth chart?
2. ILB next to Ray Lewis: Give Dannell Ellerbe the edge for now but he will be pushed by Tavares Gooden. Gooden’s speed and athleticism are hard to ignore but he lacks durability and discipline. The wild card here is Jason Phillips who has been described as extremely hard nosed and possessing of speed greater than Ellerbe.
3. 4, 5 or 6 Wide Receivers?: Boldin-Mason-Stallworth is the most oft-mentioned trips package for Cam Cameron’s offense with Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper, David Reed and Marcus Smith battling for survival. It’s hard to envision a scenario given the depth of the team’s roster where Clayton and Williams both stick because neither contributes to special teams.
4. Tight end: Todd Heap is the obvious starter while Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta battle for snaps. 2009 5th round pick Davon Drew is a long shot. Something to keep in mind here… Tight end is normally a position that provides special teams contributions. None of the top three for the moment will give Jerry Rosburg’s unit much if anything at all. That means other positions will have to step up and in the end, that places more pressure on the wide receiver group to find other ways to contribute on Sundays.
5. Backup QB: Make no mistake about it, the job is Marc Bulger’s but can Troy Smith or John Beck justify a roster spot reserved for a third QB? The bet here is, “No!”
6. Depth in the backfield: Jalen Parmele showed the team in ’09 that he can be a capable kick returner and that gives him an edge over backfield competition from Matt Lawrence although the former back from U Mass was a noticeable player on special teams prior to his season ending knee injury last year. Keep an eye on UDFA Curtis Steele who at 6’0”, 190 has size and a burst.
7. Defensive Tackle: If OTA’s proved anything, Terrence Cody is an emerging force. The thought of him and Haloti Ngata side by side could have opposing interior offensive lines shaking in their cleats. Someone to keep an eye on – Arthur Jones. The coaches were impressed with this Syracuse underachiever during OTA’s. He and Cody could significantly eat into the snaps once reserved for Kelly Gregg. Gregg played well during the second half of ’09. His roster spot is probably secure but if this were a capped season, it might not be. Newcomer Cory Redding will also see plenty of time on the interior D-Line in nickel and dime packages.
8. Defensive End: Trevor Pryce took a pay cut to return for his 14th season and 5th with the Ravens. Will Paul Kruger push him for snaps? Off the roster?
9. Kick/Punt Returner: Parmele, D. Reed, Webb, Stallworth, Clayton, Carr? Who will emerge?
10. Kicker: Will it be incumbent Billy Cundiff or the offseason signee Shayne Graham? No matter how it shakes out, this battle will be about who wins it as opposed to the ’09 season when it was more about who loses the job, Steve Hauschka or Graham Gano.