Injuries are as much a part of the NFL as touchdowns. Some years teams are relatively fortunate. Fortunate doesn’t mean staying completely healthy, that’s obviously impossible. It means keeping most of your key players healthy enough to play a full season, and avoiding catastrophic injuries that put players out for extended periods of time.
Other seasons don’t play out the same way…injuries in training camp and preseason, and season-ending surgeries early in the year. While good conditioning helps, teams staying healthy more often than not comes down to pure dumb luck. Injuries will also test the resolve of a team and the depth of its roster.
Needless to say 2013 fell into the latter category for the Ravens. Combine the loss of key players to free agency and retirement with a plethora of early injuries and the coaching staff had its hands full early on filling holes.
Dennis Pitta was injured in the first week of training camp by a rare, freak injury that’s typically found in car accidents. Jacoby Jones was knocked out in Week 1 after Brynden Trawick collided with him on a punt return. Ray Rice went down in Week 2, and Kelechi Osemele was done for the year in early November.
The Ravens’ depth was tested early on, and they didn’t have many answers. In their Week 5 win over the Dolphins they had three active receivers. Aside from Torrey Smith, Flacco’s only other targets that day were Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss – yikes.
The offensive line was thin all year as well. Once Osemele was done for the year, A.Q Shipley, a natural center, took his spot. The line never jelled and Flacco was sacked 48 times as a result.
Based on their offseason moves to this point, it’s clear that’s a situation the Ravens would rather not put themselves in again in 2014.
Yes, free safety and tight end are still thin, but the offensive line and the wide receiver position are now filled with depth.
With the re-signing of Eugene Monroe and the addition of Jeremy Zuttah, four of the five starting positions on the line appear to be set. The Ravens have expressed they would prefer to keep Osemele at left guard, so right tackle is still a need which could be addressed in the draft. If the season started today Rick Wagner would likely fill that hole. Despite no slated starter there, the line does have a healthy amount of quality depth.
A.Q Shipley, Gino Gradkowski, Ryan Jensen and Jah Reid will play reserve roles. They struggled last year, but having two guys on your bench with significant starting experience the previous season is a great luxury.
After re-signing Jacoby Jones and adding Steve Smith the Ravens now have serious depth at the receiver position.
Their biggest challenge now may be how to keep everyone happy. Jones and Marlon Brown will likely share snaps at the number three receiver spot. Trying to figure out how to divide snaps between a dynamic playmaker and a guy coming off a great rookie campaign is a good problem to have.
Should they still draft a receiver early in the draft? Absolutely. Steve Smith is a great addition, but he’s a stopgap solution, not a long-term answer. He will bridge the gap however, and be a great mentor to a young group of guys.
The Ravens found themselves short handed early on in the season last year. Ravaged by injuries, retirement and free agency, they grinded their way to an 8-8 record. While questions remain they are on pace to make sure it’s not a position they put themselves in during 2014.