The Ravens are heading into a season of unexpected change. They’re banking on some young players to take the next step and in some cases their first step. Positions like Wide Receiver, Right Tackle, Strong Safety and Cornerback have young players jockeying for position. Is this young, more athletic group of Ravens better then last year? We are extremely close to finding out.
- Are the young Ravens pass catchers ready to contribute to a team with Super Bowl aspirations?
- What will John Harbaugh’s influence on the offense be?
- Will the position coaching changes have positive or negative impact?
- Will Joe Flacco be given more control over the offense and how will he do with that control?
- Is Michael Oher ready to take the next step at left tackle?
- What type of impact will Sergio Kindle have?
- How will Terrence Cody do as THE guy at Nose tackle?
Right Tackle-Jah Reid vs. Oniel Cousins vs. ? – Reid seems like to have a leg up in training camp; Cousins is more experienced and more physical but Reid seems like the more technically sound player, with great length and upside. Of course there is always the chance that if both falter the team could look for veteran reinforcements at the position.
Strong Safety-Tom Zbikowski vs. Haruki Nakamura vs. Bernard Pollard - This comes down to what the Ravens value in that position. Zbikowski and Nakumura have more range then the previous starter Dawan Landry but can they hold up in run support? Zbikowski is physically stronger, faster, and has slighty more starting experience so I’d give him the edge, but newcomer Bernard Pollard brings run support and blitzing ability neither of the other two possess.
Cornerback-Jimmy Smith vs. Chris Carr vs. Dominique Foxworth vs. Ladarius Webb vs. Cary Williams - Each guy has a question, is Jimmy Smith ready? Is Foxworth healthy? Is Carr ideally a nickel guy? Can Webb return to form? Can Williams play well enough in games that count to push someone out of the equation? This will be an interesting battle to watch develop.
Things to watch for…
With Tyrod Taylor seemingly headed for heavy playing time in the preseason how will that affect the young WR’s and TE’s? He isn’t the most efficient pocket passer and this preseason is more important for the receiving corps than any in recent history. Hopefully we see Cam Cameron move the pocket and put Taylor in the best position to play to his strengths.
Will any of the young Centers step to the forefront? Bryan Mattison has been manning that spot with the first team as of late, Tim Barnes and Ryan Bartholomew were brought in as undrafted free agents; do they have the strength and physicality to make a difference at the position during the preseason and maybe lock up a roster spot?
Who wins the battle for the 3rd TE? Davon Drew is certainly talented but will he be able to block well enough to warrant a roster spot and effectively complement Dickson and Pitta? Recent signees Kris Wilson and to a lesser extent Jonathan Stupar seem more suited for this role. We will see if Drew has what it takes to stick.
With Paul Kruger’s move back to outside linebacker is he finally ready to provide some consistent pass rush? He made strides last year by finally becoming a rotation player. Hopefully he’s ready to build on it.
Will Justin Harper finally be more than a practice all-star? His chances seemed non-existent coming in to this season but it seems he’ll be given an opportunity to battle James Hardy, Marcus Smith, Brandon Jones and LaQuan Williams.
Lastly which underdog if any will make noise in the preseason and make it difficult for the coaching staff to send “The Turk” for their playbook? Here are a couple candidates: LaQuan Williams has good size and speed. He’s impressed at camp and has a special teams background; Practice squad holdover Albert McClellan has come back a few lbs heavier. As a sophomore at Marshall he had 11 sacks but has battled injuries ever since. If he can return to form he could develop into a solid sub package edge rusher and special teamer.