On Tuesday, the Baltimore Ravens will take the field for the first time since their Super Bowl win in February. They will gather at the Under Armour Performance Center for a three-day set of OTA practices to kick off the countdown to training camp.
There are several new additions to the Ravens roster, as well as many notable departures.
Here’s a look at some things to keep an eye on during this week’s OTA’s in Baltimore:
Who makes an early impression in the starting wide receiver race?
With the departure of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, the Ravens desperately need someone to emerge as the clear-cut No. 2 receiver opposite Torrey Smith. Of course, the race won’t end until at least midway through training camp, but the plethora of receivers have a chance to make an early case during OTA’s.
Right now, the top candidate is Jacoby Jones; however, the best-case scenario would be that another receiver emerges. Especially with Jones not attending the workouts because of Dancing With the Stars obligations, likely candidates include Tandon Doss and even second-year players Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson.
How will rookie Kyle Juszczyk be used?
In the fourth round of the draft, the Ravens selected a do-it-all offensive player in Kyle Juszczyk. While he’s listed as a fullback, he’s far from defined by that position. At Harvard, he was utilized as a tight end and slot receiver to compensate his blocking skills out of the backfield. Right now, veteran Vonta Leach is the uncontested starting fullback, but Juszczyk will likely get his fair share of opportunities as a blocker this week. Also keep an eye on how he’s used as a receiver, as that will likely be his role during his rookie year.
Does Gino Gradkowski take most of the first-team reps at center?
After veteran center Matt Birk retired during the offseason, it appeared as if second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski would become the starting center in 2013 without too much competition. Instead, the Ravens have opted to add plenty of competition for Gradkowski, drafting Ryan Jensen in the sixth round of the draft and acquiring A.Q. Shipley from the Colts. Jensen doesn’t figure to be in the running for the starting center job, but Shipley may, so it’ll be interesting to see how many reps he takes away from Gradkowski.
How will the inside linebackers handle the heavy burden?
To fill the shoes of Ray Lewis is impossible, and even filling the shoes of Dannell Ellerbe, who had a successful 2012 campaign, could be difficult. With both Lewis and Ellerbe gone, the Ravens have turned to rookie Arthur Brown, veteran Jameel McClain and Josh Bynes to emerge as the next starting inside linebackers in Baltimore. All three have shots to earn the starting jobs, with Brown and McClain appearing to be near locks right now. However, Bynes will certainly not have a lack of opportunities to prove himself as the new era of linebackers begins in Baltimore.
Will Bryant McKinnie have a changed attitude?
Even though Bryant McKinnie’s insertion into the starting lineup proved to be one of the reasons why the Ravens won the Super Bowl last season, he’s never proved to have an ideal attitude in Baltimore. He appears to be well-liked by his teammates, but he has spent the majority of his time in Baltimore in the John Harbaugh doghouse, which prevented him from playing much during the regular season in 2012. After a successful run in the playoffs and a new contract, McKinnie’s attitude and work ethic may change, preferably for the better.
How will the team handle being Super Bowl champions?
One of the biggest reasons why teams struggle to ever repeat as champions in the NFL is because of the dreaded Super Bowl hangover. Super Bowl winners often lose focus of football during the offseason and also develop a bit of a cocky attitude entering the next season. Many Ravens players have made their rounds throughout the country since February, making more media and celebrity appearance than they likely ever will again. Entering this week’s OTA’s the mindset and physical shape of the players is one of the biggest things to focus on.