Ravens Ready to Step Up Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens

Lombardi's Way Ravens Ready to Step Up

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The start of training camp is just three weeks away. After some needed and earned down time the Ravens will reconvene in Owings Mills to begin the grind that they collectively hope will conclude in Los Angeles on February 13, 2022.

The roster is talented and deep. The coaching staff and front office will have some difficult decisions to make come early September when the roster is trimmed down to fifty-three. Will the Ravens keep 7 receivers? Three quarterbacks? Two fullbacks? How many offensive linemen will make the cut? What about the talented secondary? Will good players be exposed?

Competition invites excellence. It demands it, otherwise players and their careers will perish. Those who are up to the challenge, to push towards limits they’ve yet to cross, will emerge and prosper. Those who fail will have to reboot and prepare to impress a new set of coaches and personnel execs in a new city.

As the positional battles heat up for the Ravens, new stars will shine. Some performances you might expect. Others may take you by surprise. As I look ahead towards training camp and consider my expectations for the coming season, these six players capture my attention – these six players I expect to take the next step towards greatness and cross into unchartered waters of success. Three are offensive players, three are defenders. Today we’ll focus upon the offense.

J’Kaylin “JK” Dobbins

The Ravens didn’t need to select a running back in the 2020 NFL Draft. They already had talent and depth at the position. But when JK Dobbins still sat there at pick number 55, far and away the superior talent on the board, it’s a mistake NOT to take him. Eric DeCosta didn’t make that mistake. The Buckeye became a Raven. Eventually you WILL need a running back and in 2021 that’s a shoe that fits the Ravens.

Dobbins is a back with blended skills that include speed, power, balance, shiftiness and a nose for the goal line. In 2021 he’ll get more touches and if offensive coordinator Greg Roman has his way, JK will have a bigger role in the passing game. Critics might point out that Dobbins has bad hands and his 16.7% drop rate in 2020 is proof. But judging from the way he practices, the skill set is there to be an accomplished pass catcher out of the backfield. He has an awareness of the boundaries, is capable of toe-tapping and he’s not a body catcher. He is every bit as capable a receiver as Ray Rice. The biggest challenge for JK, to prove he belongs on the field in obvious passing situations, is to improve as a blocker in pass pro. That remains to be seen.

Marquise Brown

Marquise struggled for a stretch in 2020 during which he was plagued by drops. But down the stretch, perhaps inspired by his game saving TD catch against the Browns on Monday Night Football, “Hollywood” got it in gear and averaged 5 catches for 67 yards during the season’s final 8 games. He also scored six times. Those are the numbers the Ravens expect from 2019’s first-round pick.

In 2021, I look for Greg Roman to move Marquise around to various spots across the offensive formation. With his speed he could be a potential nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators, especially when set in motion. Given the Ravens improvements at wide receiver, Brown will get more isolated looks from less accomplished DB’s. With the added benefit of a beefed up offensive line and given Lamar’s rapport with Brown, it’s not hard to envision big plays both inside the pocket and when LJ breaks containment – much like the aforementioned play in Cleveland.

Bradley Bozeman

Entering the 2020 season the Ravens knew that their offensive line, particularly at right guard, a position vacated by future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda, could be problematic. Adding to the woes was the loss of All Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season ending ankle injury in week 6. Centers Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari took turns with their best “yips” impersonations of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel. Errant snaps were common and Lamar unfortunately felt connectivity to Cardinals’ catchers.

The Ravens knew that to get the most out of their franchise quarterback they would need to protect him better, clean snaps from center included.

Stanley is expected to be ready by opening day. Alejandro Villanueva looks to capably step in at right tackle for the departed Orlando Brown, Jr. The powerful Kevin Zeitler gets the call at right guard and an intense battle at left guard will surely ensue between combatants Tyre Phillips and the Brothers Ben: Powers, Bredeson and Cleveland. Shifting to the center position is Bradley Bozeman.

Bozeman has ideal size for the position in the Ravens offense. He’s a leader, has intelligence and an appetite to study and consume game film. Plus, he’s playing for his financial future as a soon-to-be free agent targeting a lucrative second contract.

The position is hardly foreign to Bozeman, having played it against high-level competition at the University of Alabama, both in games and during practice. Bozeman’s migration to center reminds me of the career progression of former Raven Jason Brown. Brown played 3 seasons at left guard before assuming center chores. Same for Bozeman. Oh, and for those wondering about Bradley’s snaps – I’ve yet to see an errant one during any of the four practices I attended during OTA’s and minicamp.

Look for a much improved offensive front for the Ravens and it starts with Bozeman, front and center.

 

Next up: Three Defenders

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About Tony Lombardi

Tony is the founder EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com. His work has been featured on various sports websites and he hosts The Russell Street Report and Armchair Quarterback both seen and heard on Fanimal Radio. 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. More from Tony Lombardi
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