The “A” part of the second part of this projection is projecting who starts at each position for the ’09 Purple Birds. Many positions are still in flux, and you’ll see that it is possible for a platoon role on this team, which is rare for this team in most seasons.
- QB: Joe Flacco. The wunderkind is poised for another big season, but everyone in Baltimore, even Orioles fans who are cheering on his brother Mike, are fearing a sophomore slump. The success of the team depends on Unibrow Joe’s arm.
- HB: Willis McGahee. I feel that McGahee is going to break out of last year’s disappointing season to claim his rightful spot as backfield king, but share many touches with explosive backup Ray Rice.
- FB: Le’Ron McClain. While most fullbacks usually don’t get many carries, McClain’s breakout campaign last season might be too much for the team to ignore. He’ll be a big part of the running game, while still needing to improve his blocking skills.
- WR 1: Derrick Mason. The dependable veteran has had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, and unless his performance declines this season, it seems like he’s having a late-career renaissance. If Flacco has a season comparable to last, Mason should continue to be a solid #1 pass-catcher.
- WR 2: Mark Clayton. Clayton had the best season of his short career with Flacco at the helm, and was finally able to stretch the field and make things happen. Hopefully he can replicate that performance at a higher level this year, but will have to stay on his game, otherwise Kelley Washington or Demetrius Williams could steal the spotlight and take his job.
- TE: Todd Heap. Even with L.J. Smith brought in, and a tight end taken in the middle of the draft (Davon Drew), Heap has done too much and been good for too long to lose his job.
- LT: Jared Gaither. Although Michael Oher is the sexy pick here, Gaither has close to as much upside, and has the experience. All he has to do is avoid stupid penalties (which he did a fairly good job at last year), and he should be considered as one of the NFL’s top young tackles.
- LG: Ben Grubbs. Grubbs is an absolute beast. He’s as dependable as any veteran with as much potential as any top 10 draft pick. As a quarterback, having him on your line must be comforting. As a running back, knowing that big holes will be open without a penalty waiting after the play, must give the backs a ton of confidence to take gambles when they get the ball.
- C: Matt Birk. The biggest name the team brought in this offseason, the All-Pro center could be like the old veteran who gets everything together for the young, flashy guys on the team. Oher and Gaither might benefit from the most from his addition.
- RG: Marshal Yanda. The Iowa product, who was injured for all of last season, was poised to become a big impact player on last year’s line, but the injury held him back from doing anything for the whole season.
- RT: Michael Oher. The first-round pick has more upside than any rookie offensive lineman, and could be the team’s stud left tackle of the future, following in the mold of Jonathan Ogden. Right now, his relative inexperience (he didn’t play O-Line until his senior year in high school, and played only 3 years in college) would project him as a right tackle, with an inevitable move to the left once he got comfortable in the NFL.
- RDT: Trevor Pryce. RDT is what the team officially calls this position on their site, but Pryce is more referred to as a defensive end, not a tackle. Whatever the point of calling the position this, Pryce has been great with the Ravens in his 3 seasons, and avoiding injury is the key to his success.
- NT: Haloti Ngata. The league’s best nose tackle. I’m saying that even with Albert Haynesworth signing that huge contract. Ngata should be getting much more recognition. With the return of Kelly Gregg, Ngata will stay at Nose, just because he’s too good in the middle to move over again.
- LDT: Paul Kruger. Kelly Gregg could be the choice here, but he’s not suited very well for pass rushing, Kruger’s best attribute. Gregg will most likely platoon with Kruger and Ngata and come in whenever needed. Kruger should bring an aggressive pass rusher to the defense right away.
- ROLB: Terrell Suggs. The stud sack artist needs to get his contract settled, and then he can yet again be the threat that every team loathes either coming to Baltimore, or watching the team come in. No way Peyton Manning isn’t getting thrown to the ground by him this year.
- RILB: Tavares Gooden, Antwaan Barnes. This will definitely be a platoon, especially to start the season. Ravens linebackers always get replaced, so we shouldn’t worry about the players, because the system is the strength. The only thing to worry about is what player will win the job. Maybe even Jameel McClain could be thrown in there with a good training camp.
- LILB: Ray Lewis. What can I say that hasn’t been said already?
- LOLB: Jarret Johnson. One of the nicest, classiest guys on the team, and in football. Also, a very good linebacker capable of making big plays, and he doesn’t often miss tackles, which is nice.
- CB 1: Fabian Washington. The former first rounder was traded to the team by Oakland fairly cheap, and has been nothing but spectacular. Having a breakout season with Chris McAllister out, Washington will now have to lead a highly penalized and highly criticized cornerback group that could end up being the Achilles’ Heel of the defense.
- CB 2: Dominique Foxworth. Foxworth, a former Maryland Terrapin, was the team’s first FA signing this offseason, and might be the X-Factor of the defense. If successful, a solid cornerback with the ability to make big plays. If not, a bad investment and a defensive enigma.
- SS: Tom Zbikowski. Dewan Landry is expected to take this spot, but a spine-related injury is just so horrifying as a player that he might not be as aggressive on the field as the team would like their safeties. Therefore, Zbikowski, a top-class boxer would be the top choice to replace him in the secondary.
- FS: Ed Reed. The best defensive back in the NFL. Arguably the best player on the team, and in the AFC North. Or the NFL. Arguably.
- K: Graham Gano. The UFA from Florida State has a better leg and a better track record than Hauschka, but some kickers sometimes just can’t put it together as rookies mentally. This will be the most interesting position to watch.
- P: Sam Koch. As I’ve said many times, one of the league’s top 3 punters, if not the best. I hear he’s faster than Usain Bolt, also.
- KR: Chris Carr. As I mentioned in his player spotlight, Carr is a very, very good kick returner. He may not be as flashy as Yamon Figurs, but is much more reliable.
- PR: Chris Carr. (read: kick returner)
- KOS: Steve Hauschka. I don’t think any of us knew that he was kicking off until he made that field goal in Houston. Very good kickoff guy.
After the four-day hiatus that Syracuse caused for me, I’m back, and…yeah, I’m back. The next AFC North Offseason Review might not even be worth posting, considering that it’s the worst team in all of professional sports. Also, Matt Wieters hit his first home run!!!! A new age in Baltimore sports.