The hiring of Gary Kubiak will no doubt be one of the most highly talked about stories this offseason for the Ravens – and rightly so.
It’s Kubiak’s job to find a way to right the Ravens’ offensive woes that were on full display throughout the 2013 season. While the former head coach has a long history of resurrecting stagnant running games, he also will be inheriting a wide receiver corps that struggled on more than one occasion last season.
After the Ravens failed to make the postseason for the first time in the “John Harbaugh era” one thing general manager Ozzie Newsome wanted was to bring in a receiver who can make tough third-down receptions and run after the catch.
Currently the Ravens have six wide receivers under contract for 2014. They are: Torrey Smith, Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette , Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken and Gerrard Sheppard.
Of those six, only Smith and Brown saw significant playing time in 2013. Smith, who took over the Ravens number one receiver role, put up career highs in receptions (65), and yards (1128); however, his touchdowns decreased significantly, from eight to four (a new career low). Smith struggled with press coverage and was often taken away by opposing defenses. The offensive staff also greatly failed in finding creative ways to get him involved.
Brown enjoyed a quality rookie season, leading the Ravens in touchdown receptions with seven. Brown is still raw but has a ton of upside to him as he enters into his second season. If the undrafted rookie can stay healthy, all signs point to another quality year for the young receiver. His 49 receptions ranked third on the team and his 524 receiving yards were second.
Here is were the water gets murky. With Jacoby Jones as an unrestricted free agent, will the team opt to bring him back or look for a younger, cheaper replacement for the veteran receiver/kick returner? His kick returning skills are second to none and he is an instant game changer in that regard. Unfortunately, he does lack consistency in the receiving game.
While it is likely the Ravens would be interested in bringing Jones back it is unclear at this time what kind of money Jones will be seeking and what exactly the Ravens are willing to pay. Jones averaged 28.8 yards/kickoff return in 2013 and 12.5 yards in punt returns. He recorded 37 receptions for 455 yards and two touchdowns in 2013 despite missing four games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered during the season-opening loss to the Broncos.
The one thing that could be a make or break factor in both sides agreeing to a return to the Ravens in 2014 is Kubiak himself. Prior to joining the Ravens Jones played under Kubiak in Houston and rumors swirled the duo never really saw eye to eye. Kubiak squashed that rumor from the get-go upon his arrival in Baltimore in January.
“”I’ve got a great relationship with Jacoby,” Kubiak said. “I don’t want to say I was like a father figure to him, but he was like one of my children. We went through Jacoby’s early career, where he was growing not only as a player, but as a man. I can tell you this: I’m so proud of him.
“I called him right after [Ravens] won the Super Bowl. I’m so proud of the man he’s become, as well as the player. I look forward to seeing him.”
With most of the offseason focus centered on rebuilding the offense, the Ravens need to handle the wide receiver position once and for all – whether through free agency or the draft.
“I’m going to put a little pressure on Ozzie to get that going a little bit before the first game, if possible,” Harbaugh said at the State of the Ravens season-ending address, referring to Newsome’s declaration that the Ravens would have their WR by the end of the 2014 season.
So sit back, buckle up and prepare yourself for what promises to be an exciting ride as the offseason chaos is set to begin shortly.
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