The Ravens broke camp late Thursday afternoon after an eventful few weeks. Many players who spent the summer trying to earn a spot on the Ravens coveted roster will now look to the preseason games to “leave their mark,” as Ray Lewis would say.
Some players exceeded expectations of both coaching and front office staff during the grueling so called “dog days of summer,” while others seemingly disappointed and failed to capitalize on their opportunity to seize the day.
My fellow training camp colleague Dev Panchwagh and I put our heads together and here’s a look at five players who are on that first list – guys we thought really shined throughout training camp:
Linebacker C.J. Mosley
The Ravens’ 2014 first-round draft pick (17th overall) has been all business since the team selected him in May. The former Alabama product has been the real deal for the linebacking unit and his outstanding play during camp trickled over into the first preseason game against the 49ers. When defending the run, Mosley has been aces either tackling the running backs in the backfield or stopping them as they hit the second level of the defense. In pass defense, Mosley could be seen running stride for stride with some of the Ravens’ fastest receivers and breaking up several passes. The rookie should see some extended snaps against the Cowboys much like he did against the 49ers.
Wide Receiver Steve Smith Sr.
Everything about the veteran wide receiver fits the Ravens offense and organization. Entering offseason activities many fans and pundits questioned just how much gas Smith Sr. had left in the tank. If training camp was any indication, the answer is “plenty.” In fact, those questions were answered by the end of the first week. Smith Sr. brought his fiery personality to the practice field each and every day along with his precise route running ability and his sure hands regardless of who was throwing him the ball.
Right Tackle Rick Wagner
Entering training camp all eyes were focused on the offensive line – and more importantly, the right tackle position. Wagner, the second-year player was given the job to lose by the coaching staff and he never let go. There were bumps in the road when facing Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil in blitizing drills early on but Wagner improved each day and eventually held his own. As Dev Panchwagh pointed out regarding Wagner’s ability to run block, he “possesses the power to anchor the line in running situations, and also has the ability to pull and trap in space.” He’s done all of these things well enough that the Ravens were seemingly comfortable with running to the right side on several plays in their preseason opener.
Full Back Kyle Juszczyk
Much was made at the beginning of camp about just how much “Juice” would be a part of the new offense run by Gary Kubiak after a disappointing showing in the team’s 2013 training camp. He doesn’t seem to fit the traditional role of the fullback, so it made me curious to see just how Kyle would be used. It didn’t take long to see just how much Juice has improved in both pass catching and run blocking as camp kicked off. His versatility was on full display – whether lining up in the offensive backfield or as a receiver, Juice has the potential to be a huge “bailout” factor for Joe Flacco in the new offense. With a crowded receiver corps in 2014, Juice won’t see a ton of balls thrown his way, but the ones he does could be pivotal.
Quarterback Joe Flacco
2013 certainly wasn’t what we expected from the Ravens’ franchise quarterback fresh off his Super Bowl MVP award and his new contract. That was last year and it’s time to turn the page and start anew. Enter Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison along with their west coast offense system. I, like many fans wondered just how exactly Flacco would fare in a system that featured plenty of play action as well as roll outs and throwing on the run. How would it suit the 6-6, 245-pound quarterback? Well, so far, so good. It’s easy to see the attention both coaches dedicated to adjusting his footwork. Unlike last season, Flacco’s drop backs are crisper and cleaner and while his mechanics have improved all around, it’s his stepping into his throws with authority and velocity that were really eye-popping during camp. Every day wasn’t a gem by any means, but being able to see the progression and his comfort level in the new offense should reassure fans that better days from Joe are quickly approaching.
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