This week is the official beginning of training camp for the Baltimore Ravens. Last week, the Ravens’ rookies arrived for an early start to training camp. However, the rest of the players are to report to camp on Wednesday, the 26th. Training camp is the most important offseason practice, as it prepares players and is used to determine which players will remain on the roster. Baltimore has not hosted a practice since OTAs in June. Training camp is much longer than OTAs and will give the Ravens time to find answers for the many questions that they have going into training camp.
Will Perriman’s Success Continue?
During the earlier practices in June’s OTAs, Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman was noted for his stand out performance. Perriman was drafted in the first round of the NFL by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015. Since then, however, he has not panned out to be the player that everyone was hoping for. In his first season, Perriman tore his PCL, and the injury lingered for the entire season, keeping him off the field. Perriman finally hit the field in 2016 but failed to find major success as a receiver. Perriman ended up with just 33 receptions for 499 yards in 2016, a low number for a first round receiver in his second year.However, it seems that not all hope is lost with Perriman. During OTAs, Perriman impressed with his outstanding performance. However, I myself remained skeptical. Perriman having a good few practices are a good sign but are not indicative of him transforming into the player he was drafted to be. We need a larger sample size to determine how he will play in 2017, and training camp is that sample size.
However, it seems that not all hope is lost with Perriman. During OTAs, Perriman impressed with his outstanding performance. However, I myself remained skeptical. Perriman having a good few practices are a good sign but are not indicative of him transforming into the player he was drafted to be. We need a larger sample size to determine how he will play in 2017, and training camp is that sample size. Perriman having a good few practices are a good sign but are not indicative of him transforming into the player he was drafted to be. We need a larger sample size to determine how he will play in 2017, and training camp is that sample size. If Perriman continues to play well throughout training camp, there is a good chance his performance will carry into the regular season.
Perriman’s success as a receiver is imperative for the Ravens. Baltimore’s passing attack has already improved this offseason, as Baltimore added Jeremy Maclin to the mix. Both receivers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace each have the ability to total over 1,000 yards for the Ravens, however, the team would largely benefit it Perriman could share in that production as well. Perriman does not have to receive for 1,000 yards, but he does have to produce much more than he did last season. We will get a feel of whether or not it is possible for Perriman to live up to his full potential during Ravens training camp this offseason. Hopefully, Perriman will prove me wrong, but I don’t believe he’s going to be much better than last season.
Who Will be the Kick and Punt Returner?
One of the key starting positions still up for grabs during Ravens training camp is the kick returner spot. For most of the season last year, veteran Devin Hester was the return specialist. However, it was obvious Hester was nearing the end of his career, and his play suffered because of it. The Baltimore Ravens ended up cutting him before the season was over, as he was just not worth keeping at that point. Now, going into Ravens training camp, the team lacks a kick returning front runner again. However, the Ravens have a few options at kick returner to watch for this offseason. The players currently in the running for the position are Keenan Reynolds, Chris Moore, and Griff Whalen.
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens drafted Keenan Reynolds in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Reynolds, the former quarterback for the Naval Academy, was converted to wide receiver. Unfortunately, the coaching staff felt he was not ready for the NFL quite yet, and he was placed on the practice team. Now, Reynolds is coming into the second year of his transition to receiver, and it seems that he has drastically improved since last season. Reynolds is in another fight to make the roster, with the same key to success as last year. He must land the starting kick return position. Unless he can convince the coaching staff otherwise, with his route running and receiving skills, making the roster for him is contingent that he earns the starting kick return position.
Chris Moore found his way into the kick return game a few times last season, where he performed well enough to make himself relevant in the conversation for picking a new return specialist this season. Moore also played well in other areas of special teams. He returned multiple blocked punts for touchdowns. Moore has a good shot at becoming the kick returner for the Ravens this year. His experience on the Ravens special teams grants him a significant advantage over his competitors. However, he still will need to show improvement for the coaching staff to give him the spot.
The Ravens also brought in veteran receiver Griff Whalen to compete for the kick returner position. Whalen has been with multiple teams since entering the league in 2009. These teams include the Indianapolis Colts, the San Diego Chargers, and New England Patriots. During his career, he has averaged 24.2 yards per kick return. Whalen has dealt with some injuries in his career, most recently broken ribs. However, he has generally been healthy since that injury in 2015. The Baltimore Ravens made a smart decision in adding Whalen to the competition. Worst case scenario, the team cuts him for a minimal cap hit. Best case scenario, the team finds their return man.
Personally, I’d like to see Keenan Reynolds win over the position. I think that he has tons of talent and potential to become a great player in the league. However, I’m not sure if Reynolds is there yet, and the competition is going to be lead by both Whalen and Moore. Reynolds could still get the position, but I think that the experience of Whalen and Moore may be too much to overcome. Personally, I’d place my bets on Moore to win the position, but this is one of the positions with the most heated competition.
Which Rookies Will Start?
The Ravens drafted seven players in the NFL Draft this year. Although it is not as full as previous draft classes, it may be one of the most interesting ones in recent memory. The Ravens started out by drafting four straight defensive players in the first three rounds. Each of these four players has potential to be starters sooner than later in their careers. The Ravens then drafted two offensive linemen and a safety. The linemen are interesting because of Baltimore’s offensive line needs this offseason. All the players drafted by Baltimore are certainly talented, however not all of them will start in their first year. Training camp will help to determine who starts and who sits on the bench.
The obvious choice to be the first starter is first round cornerback Marlon Humphrey. At 6’0″, the 21-year-old cornerback has good size for the position. However, the Ravens already have two other starting caliber cornerbacks, in Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr. The Ravens also had Tavon Young, but his ACL tear will likely keep him out for the season. Humphrey will definitely get significant play time, but will he start? I believe he will. Humphrey will probably start on the outside of the secondary, with Brandon Carr playing the slot position left vacant by Young. This could be flipped though, as Carr has played on the outside for much of his career. Both players have similar builds too. However, I believe that it will be most beneficial for the defense if Carr is in the slot. Carr is 31 now, and it is a little less of a physical spot than the outside spot. This will help to preserve him longer for the Ravens and give Humphrey the experience on where he will likely play throughout his career.
Besides Humphrey, the Ravens have other rookies who have the chance to start this season. Defensive lineman Chris Wormley is one of those players. The Jim Harbaugh coached Michigan product was drafted in the third round by Baltimore. Wormley comes into a defensive line lead by Brandon Williams. There are many spots prime for the taking by Wormley, as his main competition is Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Brent Urban, and Bronson Kaufusi. Both Kaufusi and Davis have yet to impress after being drafted by the Ravens. Wormley will just need to beat out one of them to get significant play time. His best chance at starting would be at defensive tackle next to Brandon Williams. There’s a very good chance Wormley will end up leading that position by the start of the season, and I personally think he will end up starting there. Michael Pierce will get time in the defensive tackle position as well, but Wormley will be the main man.
Two other defensive draft picks, Tim Williams, and Tyus Bowser will get significant play time this season, however, I don’t think that they will be starters out of the gate. They may end up seizing a starting position later in the season, but not right away. The same goes for the two offensive linemen Baltimore drafted, Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor. Neither will be right away starters, but they could take a starting role if players on the line sustain injuries. As for safety Chuck Clark, I don’t think he has a very good chance of making the roster at all. Unless he proves me wrong, he won’t be on the team for much longer.
Who Will Lead the Tight Ends?
Another interesting positional group the Ravens have is the tight ends group. Currently occupied by Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, and Ryan Malleck. Going into the offseason, it seemed that this position was a strong point for the Ravens. Dennis Pitta was coming off his best statistical season ever, leading all tight ends in receptions league wide. However, Pitta dislocated his hip for a third time, which has all but ended his career. Now with all these other tight ends on the roster, one would assume that the Ravens tight end group is in good hands. However, that may not be the case. Three of the Ravens’ tight ends are coming off injuries, Ben Watson (Torn Achilles), Crockett Gillmore (Broken Back), Maxx Williams (Knee). With all of these players, it is uncertain how the group will perform as a whole.
The probable leader for this group is Ben Watson. Watson was supposed to be the temporary fix for the tight ends group last season. However, these plans were derailed when he tore his Achilles in the preseason. Baltimore got lucky that Pitta was able to carry the weight that was meant for Watson, but they won’t be that lucky this year if Watson goes down again. That is why it is imperative that Watson remains healthy this offseason. Baltimore needs production at tight end, and Watson is their best option for production. However, the Ravens also have tight end Crockett Gillmore, who has played some good football in his career. Gillmore has a great build for a tight end, at 6’6″ 256 lbs. All Gillmore needs to do to be a good tight end is to stay healthy, and to continue his playing ways. If he stays off the injury reserve, he can make a big impact on the field.
Expectations for the other tight ends are fairly limited. Maxx Williams has not been able to either stay healthy or perform at a high level since the Ravens drafted him in 2015. Nick Boyle has had some highlights playing for Baltimore but found himself suspended for a long period of time in 2016. Ryan Malleck has been in the NFL for a little while and had very little success, so it is unlikely he will amount to anything this year. If both Watson and Gillmore can stay healthy this season, they will lead the Ravens tight end group, Watson in the lead role, and Gillmore in the secondary role.
How Will the Offensive Line Fill Out?
The offensive line for the Ravens is another key group that has no definitive layout heading into training camp. The departures of Ricky Wagner and Jeremy Zuttah complicates the situation that the line is currently in. It seems that the Ravens have too many openings and not enough good players to fill the voids left open. However, this is probably not the case, and I believe that the offensive line will be sorted out fairly easily in training camp.
Some of the positions on the offensive line are very obvious on who will fill them. At right guard will be Marshal Yanda, and at left tackle will be Ronnie Stanley. The open positions are left guard, center, and right tackle. The center position is going to be a competition between Ryan Jensen and John Urschel. Both inside linemen are good players, but I believe that Urschel will be able to overcome Jensen. Urschel has played more on the offensive line than Jensen has. Experience on the line is something that quarterback Joe Flacco would appreciate very much. I also feel that the left guard and right tackle positions will have very little competition. James Hurst will occupy the right tackle position, and Alex Lewis will occupy the left guard position. Both of these players are young but have played well during their short time with the Ravens. Their main competition would be Eluemunor at guard and Siragusa at tackle.
By the end of training camp, I would expect the offensive line to look like the above prediction. It will likely be Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, Alex Lewis at left guard, John Urschel at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard, and James Hurst at right tackle. Although there is a bit of uncertainty on the offensive line at the moment, they are primed for success this season. There is enough collective experience and talent on the offensive line to both protect Joe Flacco and open holes for the running game.