Camp Week 1: What We Know and Don’t Know So Far
With nearly a week of training camp practices in the books (capped off by last night’s performance at M&T Bank stadium), some of the pieces are starting to fall into place. It’s still early but here are the biggest points to consider so far:
What We Know:
• Gary Kubiak’s Motion Offense is Prevalent. Whether it’s the tight ends, receivers or fullback Kyle Juszczyk, the pass targets have been on the move early and often. Motion is a big staple of Kubiak’s offense and there is no question it will be a big part of the new-look Baltimore offense.
• Terrence Brooks Isn’t Ready for First-Team Snaps. Brooks was looked at as a potential Day One starter at free safety. Although there is still time for him to play catch up, his opportunities are going to get slimmer as the incumbent, Darian Stewart, continues to show his versatility and grasp of the defense. Brooks is still a talented prospect that can make an impact; but he is falling prey to the rookie learning curve.
• Ray Rice Has Regained His Burst. Rice was consistently slow to the hole last season and had a hard time breaking tackles. Thus far in camp, he’s hitting the creases with more urgency, and when he gets daylight, he runs through tackle attempts. He is making it a point to play physically and with better tempo. He is also showing good vision and patience in Kubiak’s scheme.
• This Is the Deepest Receiving Corps In the Harbaugh Era. From positions 1-4, the Ravens can attack you with different receiver combinations. We will see variations of formations in which The Smiths (Torrey and Steve), Jacoby Jones, and Marlon Brown will all see the field. They may all be on the field at the same time. Or more than likely, they will be alternating. The great thing is that all of the receivers can play inside or outside, presenting plenty of matchup dilemmas for opposing defensive coordinators.
What We Don’t Know:
• Who Will Start as the Nickel Corner? Both Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown have had their chances to play the role. Brown has been miserable thus far in camp. Jackson has been much better. However, neither player has really charged out of the gates. My money is still on Jackson, but this battle is going to last until the bitter end of the preseason.
• The Definitive Role of Owen Daniels. Thus far, Daniels has been handling some different duties than what we are accustomed to seeing. He is not the guy on the move in the offense – that role looks like it’s going to Juszczyk. And Dennis Pitta has taken over his role as the primary flex tight end in the offense. Daniels is going to have to adjust to being used in more of a rotation, especially if rookie tight end Crockett Gilmore continues to shine as a run blocker. Whether Daniels fits in with all of the other offensive weapons is still a question mark.
• If the Pass Rush Is Back. Even with the glimpses we’ve seen of the front getting better, it’s still hard to say if the down front rush is substantially better than it was at the tail end of last season, when the rush fell off a cliff. Can the group of rushers make plays on third-down passing situations when the game is on the line without relying on the blitz? They’ve made their presence felt (especially Pernell McPhee and Terrell Suggs) but the preseason games should unveil a clearer picture.
• How the Backs Will Do Without Rice. They’ve all had their moments, but none of the other RBs have been as consistent as Rice. And that is somewhat concerning considering Rice will be suspended for the first two games against the Bengals and Steelers. Pierce and Taliaferro have displayed power and the ability to push the pile, while Forsett has shown off his shiftiness. It will be interesting to see how the three backs will be used going forward, and whether they will see more snaps in camp ahead of Rice before the season opener. Of all the backs, Pierce still has the most upside and his running style really fit’s Kubiak’s one-cut, zone scheme perfectly.