On Thursday night in Atlanta some veterans and many newcomers will take center stage under the bright lights of the Georgia Dome looking to impress and build their individual cases to be among the final 53 on the Ravens roster.
Some will get their first dose of the legendary speed of the NFL. Those who adapt the best physically and mentally will make their mark. Others may experience the bitter taste of meaningful failure in their athletic careers for the first time.
Throughout training camp we’ve been your eyes and ears through our CAMP NOTES. As the preseason games commence you will soon begin to draw your own conclusions. Earlier we shared our take on the team’s offense and what to look for. Here’s a guide, drawn for our observations during training camp of what you should focus upon on the defensive side of the ball.
Summary: The free-agency departure of Cory Redding following former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, to the Colts, created a competition at defensive end. As they tend to do, the Ravens went with their “next man up” approach and stayed in-house to fill the vacancy. The development of Arthur Jones and immediate impact of Pernell McPhee from last season was supposed to create a major competition coming into training camp.
McPhee missed a good portion of minicamp and the beginning of training camp after having minor knee surgery and Jones took the majority of the snaps with the first team. Now that Jones has been sidelined with a hip injury, McPhee looks to return the favor and grab the coaches’ attention while his primary competitor for snaps is an observer only.
Terrence Cody- Mount Cody may be one of few men who can be called “in-shape” while having a huge gut. To borrow from the Ravens motto from last year, Cody has been “relentless” in the weight room and always present at the practice facility.
Cody’s physique throughout his career has brought some negative criticism but now it’s time to flip the script and bring on some positive remarks. After working so hard this offseason to improve himself, Cody should receive praise from Ravens fans when he takes the field and actually fits on your TV screen.
Pernell McPhee- After missing many practices with the aforementioned knee surgery, McPhee has returned and looks to repeat and build upon his impressive performance as a rookie in 2011. While on the field, McPhee was one of the most productive players in the NFL last season totaling six sacks and 23 total tackles.
McPhee has some rust to shake off and there is no better time to do it than during the preseason. As it looks now, Jones will be taking more snaps once the season starts but it’s up to McPhee to seize the opportunity while his counterpart is sidelined.
Ma’ake Kemoeatu- Originally signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent 10-years ago, Kemoeatu returns to Baltimore in an attempt to extend his career. Kemoeatu has been injury plagued and has struggled to make a huge impact after tearing an Achilles and also the labrum in his shoulder.
Luckily for Kemoeatu, word around the Ravens facility is that he’s impressed coaches and looks to have a decent shot at making the roster this season if he can stay healthy.
Ryan McBean- McBean is big – 6’-5” and 305lbs to be exact – and it’s hard to miss him on the field. He’s had a good camp and also worth watching as he looks to finally settle down with a team as he’s bounced around the league during his young career.
Summary: Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain may not play much in Atlanta but seeing how their weight loss will transition into live action definitely deserves the most attention when the first-team defense takes the field for a series or two.
Nigel Carr- Carr’s personal story of a criminally plagued college career typically makes him a well-discussed player, but his on-field performance should garner most of the discussion from here on out.
Carr has received much praise from coaches for always being able to find the ball and hitting everything in sight. Of the 90-players currently on the roster, Carr is the one I’ll be watching the most on Thursday. Here’s an up close and personal look at this very interesting undrafted free agent.
Albert McClellan- To put the burden of filling Terrell Suggs’ shoes on Courtney Upshaw isn’t fair. As Upshaw adapts to the league, McClellan has been here before and has caught the eyes of many during camp.
McClellan is a viable pass rush threat and has had a good camp. It’ll be good to see what he does against another team besides the Ravens second-string offense.
Sergio Kindle- What would this guide be without a mention of Kindle? I’ll say this, it’s now or never for Kindle and from what he’s shown during practice, he looks to be leaning in more of the “now” category.
Kindle has positively changed from last season and the game is slowing down for him. How much of a difference remains to be seen but he’ll definitely be worth watching. The Ravens need to recover something from the second-round pick they invested in him.
Summary: The Ravens are stacked with depth at cornerback, which is an uncommon luxury for the franchise. The top three spots on the depth chart are already occupied with Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams. The other corners not mentioned will have to make an impact on special teams to see the field a considerable amount this season.
Corey Graham- Without a doubt, Graham has been the biggest surprise amongst the free-agents brought in this offseason. Graham is a Pro Bowl special teams player but has surprisingly made quite an impact at corner.
During practice, Graham has been like a vitamin – good for one interception a day and flies all over the field. During this first preseason game, he should expect to see a decent amount of playing time against the Falcons.
When the rich can get richer at a critical position on the field, the Ravens must be feeling good about Graham’s acquisition.
Asa Jackson- When you see Jackson for the first time, you’ll see that he is clearly smaller than most other players on the field; however, he can also out jump most wide receivers. Multiple times in practice, Jackson has leapt in the air and deflected passes against Tommy Streeter, who happens to be almost a foot taller than Jackson.
Jackson’s impact on this year’s team will have to come from special teams but the rookie from Cal Poly has made a positive impression during his short time in the NFL.
Summary: Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard will continue to sit at the top of the depth chart as the season begins but replacing the “plug-in “ players like departed Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski is something the team must focus on as Reed’s career may end during any play with his nagging neck injury.
Christian Thompson- After being dismissed from Auburn for missing too many classes, Thompson once again finds himself playing against superior competition, this time at the professional level.
A fourth-round selection of the Ravens in the draft, Thompson has the prototypical body of a safety and needs to add a little more muscle. On the field, Thompson hasn’t made a tremendous amount of plays but he also hasn’t looked to struggle either.
The preseason is a learning curve for rookies and Thompson has a lot to learn in order to be effective in the NFL. For Thompson, preseason games will be a crash course for the rookie and as long as he improves his study skills from college, he should be an effective plug in player as the Ravens try to extend Reed’s career as long as possible.
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