GRAPEVINE: Some Ravens leave lasting impressions after mini-camp

Lombardi's Way GRAPEVINE: Some Ravens leave lasting impressions after mini-camp

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With their 2009 mandatory mini-camp now in the books it is difficult not to walk away with the impression that the Ravens have improved the depth of their roster. At this time last year, the club’s management made it known that they intended to build a young and versatile line to propel their offense and protect their franchise quarterback.

Newly added first round draft pick Michael Oher brings athleticism to the position of right tackle that the Ravens have not yet seen in their 14 year history.  While it is difficult to gauge Oher’s effectiveness without donning full contact combat gear, it is apparent that his footwork is that of a tackle normally pegged to anchor the left end of the line. Oher had a solid first weekend but according to one source, he slipped a bit on Sunday when he assumed left tackle duties subbing for Jared Gaither who sat out with a migraine.

Front and center on the offensive line is Matt Birk. While Birk doesn’t offer the road grading capabilities afforded by Jason Brown, the club has already been impressed with Birk’s leadership and line calls.  The overall feeling is that the team has upgraded the position with the addition of the six-time Pro Bowler. It’s difficult not to be impressed with Birk’s work ethic. Birk opted to practice on Sunday even though John Harbaugh allowed all players part of the 30+ club to take the day off.

While on the subject of the offensive line Chris Chester is among the players that left the most lasting of impressions after the first set of OTA’s. Chester ran with the first unit this past weekend in place of Marshal Yanda who is expected to be ready to return sometime during training camp. Chester’s experiences in 2008 set up well for the G/C who is now entering his fourth season.

A first year Raven who opened some eyes was newly acquired quarterback John Beck. Despite making a poor decision on Sunday resulting in an interception, Beck impressed with his quick release, accuracy and surprisingly strong arm.  He is an extremely likable guy who brings leadership and a familiarity with Cam Cameron’s offense. The club is impressed with Beck’s redirecting of players as part of an effort to execute plays more efficiently. Beck offered encouragement and guidance on the field, something rarely seen from recently departed Kyle Boller.

One of the more interesting battles this summer will be the fight for No. 2 QB between Beck and Troy Smith. If Smith’s “Suggs Package” is going to remain part of the Ravens’ offense, the No. 2 position could be fluid throughout the season. It’s possible that Smith could be the No. 2 as long as Joe Flacco remains healthy with Beck being the emergency QB but if Flacco misses any time, Beck could get the call.

Staying with the offense, Ray Rice was another of the more consistently impressive Ravens this past weekend. Rice was explosive and shifty and appears well rested. It’s important to keep in mind that Rice had 380 carries his final season at Rutgers for 2,012 yards and 24 TD’s. He then participated in the combines and individual workouts before becoming the Ravens’ training camp workhorse last year. The wear and tear took its toll.  A rejuvenated Rice could bring some welcomed explosiveness to Cameron’s arsenal in ‘09.

Ravens’ critics will argue that the team did little to improve at wide receiver but that argument assumes that the players currently on the depth chart have done little during the offseason to step up their game. Marcus Smith was the most consistently impressive receiver this past weekend according to one team official and that could be an indication that the former Lobo from New Mexico is shaping the raw skills that attracted Ravens’ scouts. Demetrius Williams has added some muscle mass particularly in his shoulders and if healthy, he elevates the collective play of Coach Jim Hostler’s unit. Camp invitee Kelley Washington was clearly the most impressive of the trio of veteran receivers brought in for a look-see. Washington hustled, provided enthusiasm and made plays. Tab Perry did little to stand out while Jerry Porter stood out for how little he did.  Porter was uninspired, unimpressive and judging from his movements not in very good shape.

The Ravens are said to be in negotiations with Washington’s agent. The Redskins had extended a veteran minimum offer to Washington but they have since signed WR’s Roydell Williams and Keith Eloi. Those Redskins’ signings might provide Ozzie Newsome with a little leverage at the bargaining table.

DE/OLB Paul Kruger ran with the first team this weekend in place of Terrell Suggs. Kruger should see time as a pure defensive end and as the strong-side (SAM) linebacker. The former Ute was very disruptive in the backfield this weekend and he has been compared often to Michael McCrary for his tenacity. But Kruger is a much bigger player than McCrary and team officials believe he has the frame to play at 280 pounds. Skeptics have thrown out the name Dan Cody, also a second round draft pick who like Kruger was projected by some to be a first round choice. The Ravens believe that Kruger’s frame will enable him to carry the pre-requisite weight for the position that apparently Cody couldn’t given his long history of injuries. Kruger has been compared to a poor man’s Chris Long, the second overall pick in the ’08 draft.

Others players singled out by the club as top performers during the mini-camp include Tavares Gooden (speed, explosiveness) and Lardarius Webb (speed, hands on punt returns)…Nothing new on the Terrell Suggs front. Word is the Ravens have offered Suggs Jared Allen-type money (Allen’s deal included $31 million in guarantees) but there’s been no movement from Suggs’ camp. Don’t be surprised to see this linger until July 15, the deadline for a franchised player to sign a new deal. Suggs may want to avoid all of the OTA’s between now and then.  If there is no agreement in place by July 15, Suggs will have to play the ’09 season as a franchised player. Keep in mind that if Suggs is franchised a third time, he will be paid the average of the top 5 salaries in the league regardless of position. That is probably not an option for the Ravens. If the two sides don’t come together by July 15th, the 2009 season could be Suggs’ last in Baltimore.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts “The Fanimal” also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi.

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