The countdown to training camp has begun, with the commencement of the 2014 campaign just weeks away for the Baltimore Ravens.
After an unordinary 8-8, playoff-less season for the team, turning the page and officially starting full practices for a new season allows team and fans alike to finally turn over a new leaf and shift all eyes and discussion to the 2014 season.
Last year’s season was full of disappointments, and all signs point to the Ravens rebounding this year with an improved roster, and, hopefully, an improved win total.
But, even if the team is improved from a year ago, there’s no guarantee every player will live up to expectations in training camp.
Every position has plenty of candidates to be surprises or disappointment during the training camp and preseason.
Who are some candidates?
Surprise: Brandon Williams - One of the biggest surprises in 2013 was Williams’ lack of playing time, as he amassed just 93 snaps on defense as a rookie, but played quite well during his limited time on the field.
A massive, athletic nose tackle, Williams is a disruptor in the middle whose pass rushing ability makes him more than just a gap-occupying interior defensive linemen. Expect more playing time for Williams and more of an impact in his second season.
Disappointment: Timmy Jernigan - If Williams’ role increases, opportunities may be limited for Jernigan, the rookie second-round pick.
Jernigan can provide value in year one as a run defender, but on a crowded defensive line, he may struggle for playing time early on in his career. His situation may be similar to 2013 second round pick Arthur Brown, whose playing time was limited as a rookie, but who is expected to progress each season in terms of his role on defense.
Surprise: Arthur Brown - Among the breakout candidates on the roster, Brown is near the top of the list, as his role should greatly increase in year two. A talented coverage and blitzing option, Brown may not become a full-time player just yet, but expect an increase from his 211 snaps in 2013 and more of an impact from the linebacker. He and C.J. Mosley will provide a youthful one-two punch and be fun to watch.
Disappointment: Daryl Smith - A victim of youth and a numbers game, it is highly unlikely Smith replicates his 1,000+ snap season from a year ago. He is still a prime coverage option for the team, but with Brown and Mosley in the mix, all three need to get playing time, and Smith’s role may decrease as all three are rotated on the field.
He signed a four-year deal this offseason, but at 32 years old, Smith may be out-dueled by his younger counterparts.
Surprise: John Simon - There is nowhere to go but up for Simon, who managed just three defensive snaps as a rookie. He played well on special teams, but it’s time for him to take on a bigger role on defense.
Baltimore’s pass rush depth is limited behind top pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and Simon has a prime opportunity to earn more playing time, especially in a role as a situational pass rusher.
Disappointment: Terrell Suggs - He faded off at the end of the 2013 season, providing almost no value as a pass rusher in the second half. Turning 32 in October, it’s time to temper expectations regarding Suggs.
His best days as a pass rusher are behind him, and at this point in his career, leaning on him to deliver in the run game should be the first priority. He still made an impact in run defense during the time his pass rushing ability tapered off, and he can still be an edge-setting force for the defense. But 2011 was Suggs’ last great NFL season, and for now, hoping he can come up big in the run game while still providing seven or eight sacks a season is the best bet.
Surprise: Aaron Ross - Just a few weeks ago, the battle for the third cornerback job seemed to be a two-man race between Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Expectedly, though, the Ravens added some bodies to the competition, including the veteran Ross.
Early in the 2013 season with the New York Giants, Ross proved he still has starting-caliber capabilities when healthy, and if all things health-wise check out for Ross, don’t be surprised to see him on the final roster, possibly finding himself as high as third on the cornerback depth chart.
Disappointment: Asa Jackson - The arrival of Ross doesn’t bode well for Jackson, who was already a long shot to be the third cornerback before Ross and veteran Dominique Franks were added to the roster.
Jackson has more suspensions (two) than defensive snaps (zero) through two NFL seasons, and didn’t look particularly strong in coverage last preseason. He faces an uphill battle to earn playing time on defense this season.
Surprise: Terrence Brooks - As a rookie who was selected in the third round, history says Brooks should face a pretty steep uphill battle to earn the starting free safety job, especially with the team’s recent history with minimal playing time for mid-to-late round rookies.
But Brooks has a good chance of being the exception to the rule, as the combination of the little competition he faces for the job and his desirable coverage skill set should provide him ample opportunities to win the job by the end of training camp.
Disappointment: Darian Stewart - Seen as Brooks’ lone competition in the battle for the starting free safety job, reuniting with former coach Steve Spagnuolo should make the transition process to Baltimore easier for the veteran Stewart.
While Stewart has the experience and versatility that should help him make the team, talent ultimately trumps all, and in terms of what each player provides to the defense, Brooks should have the leg up over Stewart for the starting role.