The Ravens open training camp on July 19, a bit earlier than normal due to the additional preseason game – the Hall of Fame Game, in Canton, Ohio on Thursday, August 2. So, for the next 3+ weeks all will be quiet.
At least we hope so. In June the sound of silence is music to our ears.
NFL news that hits the wire in early summer is generally not good. It’s during this down time that the league’s front office execs and coaching staffs are a bit on edge. All of their best laid offseason plans could unwind quickly if a key player ends up as a feature story on TMZ Sports.
One critical suspension could swing NFL Odds at online casinos and have a roster ripple effect, perhaps even weakening depth in a key area. Or, it could further weaken an already thin position. As the Ravens players collectively convalesce at this time of year, the coaching staff is doing anything but.
They are preparing to get their team ready for the 2018 season.
They are preparing to do the best they can to address areas of weakness.
And for the moment those areas include: Center, Inside Linebacker, Punt Returner and Edge Rusher.
If we look back one year ago, the position of center was up for grabs. It was so bad that the Ravens re-signed 49ers camp casualty and former team center Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah was done and it was obvious last summer. The Ravens parted ways with Zuttah, who shortly thereafter retired at the age of 31.
The Ravens considered a few other players to man the position, ultimately settling on Ryan Jensen who had a solid season, anchoring Coach Joe D’Alessandris’ unit. Jensen finished 2017 as the 9th most efficient center according to Pro Football Focus and parlayed his season into a 4-year, $42 million contract.
Fast forward to the 2018 and the Ravens are hoping that someone else will step up like Jensen did. But who?
Matt Skura has been mentioned as a possibility but he’s a bit light and could be pushed around a bit in a division that prides itself on interior defenders that can disrupt. Alex Lewis will be considered, but the lack of experience at the position and health are his obstacles. Rookie Bradley Bozeman shows promise but will he be ready for the challenges of the position in the NFL? A dark horse at center is Marshal Yanda, particularly if Lewis flashes potential at right guard, the position that Yanda has perfected. The downside of such a move is the value Yanda could provide as rookie tackle Orlando Brown, Jr.’s wingman.
Despite the resume of C.J. Mosley, this position is arguably the team’s weakest link. Mosley might go to Pro Bowls, rack up tackling stats and flash as an above average blitzer from the interior LB spot. But C.J. doesn’t consistently make tackles at or around the line of scrimmage plus he’s a liability in coverage. Patrick Onwuasor made more plays at or near the line of scrimmage than Mosley in 2017 according to PFF, but he was even worse than Mosley in coverage.
Mosley will start. That’s a given. But whether it’s Onwuasor, Bam Bradley, Albert McClellan, Kenny Young or some yet-to-be-signed ILB, the position is without question defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s biggest challenge this summer. Hopefully the front office can find a little Tic-Tac-Dough and go get Wink some linebacker help.
Given the departure of Michael Campanaro, the punt return specialist position is wide open. That said, given the current composition of the roster, there’s literally no one who has any measurable experience as a pro or even at the collegiate level as a punt returner. At Arizona State, Tim White had 27 punt returns for 308 yards and 1 TD. Is that good enough to work with?
Once again, this is a position that could be won by someone not yet on the 90-man roster.
The hope here is that through scheme (Wink has to be better than Dean Pees), development (Messrs. Bowser, Williams and Smith…it’s time to step up) or improved health (Brent Urban), the Ravens will be able to give Suggs and Judon some support. But will it be enough during the fourth quarter of closely contested games?
An interesting prospect to watch will be Zach Sieler, the Ravens 2018 7th-Round pick out of Ferris State.
Adequately addressing these areas of roster weakness could determine how far the Ravens advance in 2018.
The sound of silence in January is hardly music to our ears.