Training camp, a grind for the players and a rebirth of sorts for the fans, particularly those here in The Land of Pleasant Living who have suffered through 13 consecutive losing summers courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles – has now concluded.
What did we learn about the Ravens, the development of some players and the potential impact of the newcomers who populate the roster?
It’s interesting how fans rely on the media to be their eyes and ears during camp but in many ways abandon the opinions of reporters after they have an opportunity to develop their own, usually after taking in a preseason game or two.
But does one preseason game tell the tale? Are weeks of practice productivity completely discarded after one preseason performance?
Clearly the preseason matters but so does training camp. Today we’ll take a look back and trace the team’s steps from the beginning of training camp, just 3 weeks ago…
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Prior to the start of camp the most pressing issues and most repetitive questions were:
- Has the team adequately addressed their secondary issues?
- Can Terrell Suggs rebound from a relatively poor 2009 season and lift a rather suspect pass rush?
- Can newcomers Boldin and Stallworth mesh well with the team?
- Will Joe Flacco take that next step?
- Who will emerge as the team’s placekicker?
- Will Ed Reed be ready for the opener?
It remains to be seen if the Ravens have adequately addressed the lack of depth in the secondary – specifically at cornerback. The club entered camp rather thin at the position and before camp ever really got started they lost Domonique Foxworth to a torn ACL during non-contact individual drills. Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are recovering rapidly from their respective ACL tears but they will enter the season with little to next to no camp repetitions to prep them for the season. None of the newcomers have really stepped up: Travis Fisher is in the neighborhood but rarely successfully defends a pass while Doug Dutch and Chris Hawkins have amounted to little more than camp fodder thus far. Chris Carr has had a very solid camp and is building upon the momentum he established at the back end of 2009. Cary Williams has also been solid and he may have a promising future if his progress continues. He provides very competent special teams play as well.
Terrell Suggs looks reborn and is in the best shape of his professional career. He appears to be a man on a mission and that spells bad news for opposing quarterbacks. Suggs is playing with a chip on his shoulder and is hell bent on answering his naysayers.
Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth have seamlessly meshed with Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron’s offense. They have both met and exceeded expectations heading into camp. They now must project their camp accomplishments between the lines on football Sundays. So far, very good!
Joe Flacco hasn’t taken a big step forward so far and at times he has been outplayed by backup Marc Bulger during camp. He has thrown the ball over the middle more effectively and there have been times when he’s looked off the safety and then used that big gun to produce points in the red zone. The consistency just hasn’t been there and the Ravens will need that from Flacco particularly early in the season as the defense adjusts and finds its legs at corner.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that when the Ravens signed Shayne Graham he would be the team’s placekicker. That is no longer a foregone conclusion. Neither Graham nor Billy Cundiff has been a model of consistency as of late and the competition is far from over. If neither steps forward, the cheaper model is preferred and that’s Cundiff.
Ed Reed remains on PUP but is improving. The bright lights of Monday Night Football may be too attractive for Reed to ignore and there’s a chance that he could take the big stage even if it’s simply in a reduced role. Perhaps the prudent thing to do would be not to rush him.
Many believed that Terrence Cody would be a productive Raven in his rookie season. The team has a way of finding and utilizing big defensive tackles in a plus way. On the heels of an impressive set of OTA performances, Cody got off to a slow start. However as evidenced by his play against Carolina, the “Cheeseburger” has come on strong, so much so that he will probably push Kelly Gregg as a starter.
Many thought that Mark Clayton’s immediate future with the Ravens was in jeopardy. All talk about the Ravens wide receivers centered upon the promising posse of Boldin, Derrick Mason and Stallworth. Even teammates barely breathed Clayton’s namesake when the team’s new look passing attack was discussed. However, Clayton has had a very productive camp and for the first time in quite a while he has been healthy while navigating the fields of McDaniel College. His willingness to eagerly embrace his challenge makes the Ravens’ offense that much better.
The Ravens’ front office and scouts believed that they uncovered two solid prospects when they selected tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in the third and fourth rounds respectively. But even they must be jazzed about the seamless way in which the pair has been incorporated into Cameron’s offense. Neither looks like a rookie and consequently don’t be surprised to see 3 tight end sets early this season from the Ravens.
Tom Zbikowski played well last season filling in for an injured Ed Reed. But this offseason Zibby looked to take his game to the next level. He shed nearly 20 pounds and is playing faster. The added speed coupled with his maturation in Greg Mattison’s defense has paved the way for an extremely productive camp for the former Golden Domer. What many thought would be a battle between Zibby and newcomer Ken Hamlin hasn’t really been a battle at all.
Domonique Foxworth…first day of camp…torn ACL…out for the season…enough said!
The Ravens were tickled to be able to land Sergio Kindle in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft and while no one expected him to start this season – at least not initially, the club did expect production from the former Texas Longhorn later during the campaign. After his unfortunate tumble down two flights of stairs leaving the promising rookie with a fractured skull, the 2010 season and perhaps his career is in serious doubt for Kindle.
Heading into camp it seemed a foregone conclusion that the inside linebacker position next to Ray Lewis was Dannell Ellerbe’s to lose. From day 1 that was NEVER the case as Jameel McClain supplanted Ellerbe regularly with the first team defenders. And while McClain’s practice productivity suggested he deserved the nod, he didn’t carry that momentum effectively into the preseason opener against Carolina when he was often out of position and in part responsible for allowing the Panthers to gash the Ravens’ front seven for sizable gains on the ground. While the competition between this pair and Tavares Gooden is a close, it’s time for one of them to step up and provide consistency. So far there’s been none.
Troy Smith is well liked by his teammates and possesses plus leadership skills. He’s a competitor who aspires to be a starting signal caller in the NFL. The aspirations are admirable but his play has been anything but. Smith looks no different now than he did as a rookie. That does little for Ozzie Newsome who would like to move Smith for a pick.
Back in 2008 the Ravens burned a fourth round pick on Marcus Smith. The converted running back was looked upon to provide size and physicality to the position yet the team knew that he was a developmental prospect. The problem is, he’s still developmental and he has shown absolutely no sign of improvement. If anything he’s regressed because his speed and conditioning have slipped and soon he’ll slip off the 53 man roster, if he even makes it to the final cut.
KJ Gerard showed promise during OTA’s and with the team’s lack of depth at corner some observers believed that the second year undrafted player out of Northern Arizona might step up and snatch a roster spot. Instead Gerard has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and all that lies ahead in this DB’s immediate future is an injury settlement or another practice squad invite.
Positional battles will intensify as the Ravens tackle the next 3 preseason games against the Redskins, Giants and Rams. Many players are on the bubble, with the biggest cluster of suds resting at the position of defensive tackle. Talavou, McKinney, Divens, Jones…only 2 will stick. Can Ozzie deal one or two of them? Demetrius Williams or David Reed? For the moment it’s Williams’ job to lose. Troy Smith or Prescott Burgess? Obviously they play different positions but when competing for the final 53, this could be typical of the choices the Ravens will be forced to make.
Jared Gaither has been a rather enigmatic player dating back to his days under the watchful eye of Maryland Terrapins’ head coach Ralph Friedgen. His work ethic has often been questioned. What motivates Gaither has regularly been pondered. John Harbaugh and the Ravens have been down this road before, first with Chris McAlister and then with Willis McGahee. McAlister was discarded quickly and painlessly while McGahee has done a 180 and embraced the concept of team. Some may argue that the Ravens have already reaped returns on their fifth round supplemental pick beyond even their most optimistic expectations. Yet few would argue that the team is better with a focused and purposeful Jared Gaither. Whether or not such a player shows up in 2010 remains to be seen.