By most accounts the Baltimore Ravens have had a very fine offseason. Patience and experience have rewarded Ozzie Newsome & Co.
Yet despite the extensive roster augmentation motivated by a goal to get younger and faster, there remain two big question marks as the team works their way through OTA’s in preparation for Training Camp 2013:
1. Who will play inside linebacker?
2. How will Jim Caldwell account for the loss of Anquan Boldin?
It’s worth repeating that an offseason really can’t be judged until the Ravens (or any team for that matter), pare their roster down to the 53-man squad featured in the 2013 team photo. Until then the offseason remains a work in progress.
Looking back on previous seasons, the Ravens have often made moves after the NFL Draft, even during the thick of training camp, to strengthen their final 53-man roster. Willie Anderson (September 5, 2008), Vonta Leach (July 31, 2011), Bernard Pollard (August 3, 2011), Lee Evans (August 13, 2011) and Jacoby Jones (May 8, 2012) were all signed to fill holes, complement current players or provide depth.
They were the right players at the right price at the right time.
Ravens pro personnel execs George Kokinis and Vince Newsome are already well aware of players currently on other rosters who could help the Ravens should they be released. And history suggests that their patience will be rewarded and they will strike when an opportunity presents itself.
If the aforementioned late offseason free agent signings are not proof-positive that patience has its rewards, maybe this name will strike a chord – Elvis Dumervil.
But for the sake of argument, what if the right player at the right price at the right time isn’t available to boost the positions of inside linebacker and wide receiver?
At inside linebacker the potential starters for the Ravens include: Jameel McClain, Arthur Brown, Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan, Bryan Hall and Nigel Carr. That’s not exactly a group to get excited about.
McClain is serviceable and has clear leadership qualities but rarely makes impactful plays and there are lingering questions about his spinal concussion suffered in 2012.
Bynes is inconsistent; McClellan is a bit like McClain and a bit of a fish out of water in coverage; Hall is looking to move from defensive tackle to ILB while Carr is raw and very stiff in open spaces.
And that brings us to Arthur Brown.
In the Ravens 3-4 alignment Brown projects as the weak side interior backer. A bit undersized, Brown is instinctive, quick to the ball and a sure tackler. Many have compared him to Maryland native and two-time All Pro NaVorro Bowman from the San Francisco 49ers.
Brown could be paired up with McClain as a starter and while that may not seem to be an impressive immediate transition from the Ray Lewis Era, let’s not overlook what the Ravens have done on the defensive front that will greatly aid the productivity of McClain and Brown.
This offseason the Ravens have added Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and promising rookie Brandon Williams. They will be teamed with perennial Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata, the quick-rising Arthur Jones and the improving DeAngelo Tyson.
Setting the edges will be 2011’s DPOY Terrell Suggs, the stout Courtney Upshaw and promising rookie John Simon. Add it up and it’s a formidable group that can eat up blockers and keep McClain and Brown clean to thwart opposing rushing attacks.
On offense, the departed Anquan Boldin leaves many wondering where the lost production will come from. The Super Bowl XLVII hero was adept at navigating the real estate between the numbers particularly the area around the hash marks in the red zone.
To attack those areas the Ravens will look to see who among a lengthy list of candidates can step up and be that physical presence while supporting the running game with downfield blocking. No one from the list that includes Tandon Doss, David Reed, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter or Aaron Mellette fits that bill. Perhaps the closest option the Ravens have to match Boldin’s physicality is LaQuan Williams.
The Ravens could opt to attack the middle of the field with a combination of passing routes that include their running backs, tight ends or newcomer, rookie H-back Kyle Juszczyk.
As we’ve seen Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell is adept at utilizing the talents of his players and placing them in position to succeed versus his predecessor who forced players regardless of their unique skill sets to conform to his offense.
There’s a big difference!
But until such time that the players on the Ravens current roster can establish themselves (or not), and at least in some way make team observers forget about Dannell Ellerbe and Boldin, questions will linger.
And if they do Ozzie will look for answers.
History suggests he’s already a couple of steps ahead.
It wasn’t that long ago when folks thought losing Todd Heap would be a crippling blow?