With training camp officially underway, here are the position battles worth keeping an eye on.
The Ravens 2011 starters are both gone for at least part of the season. Jarrett Johnson has departed for “greener” pastures and Suggs Tore his achilles in April. JJ and Suggs had formed one of the best OLB combos in the league for years so now the Ravens are in a bit of a pickle. Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger are penciled in to fill in for JJ and Suggs respectively, but Sergio Kindle is still out to prove he can play in the NFL and Albert McClellin is lying in the Weeds looking for his shot to get some play time as well.
Last year Cary Williams filled the no.2 corner role admirably. He kept his guy out of the endzone and was a key cog in a pass defense that allowed only 11 passing TDs on the season. This year, Williams will have to fend off Jimmy Smith, last years first round draftee, if he hopes to keep his job. Jimmy started off slow last year after dealing with a high ankle sprain that caused him to effectively miss almost half the season (officially just four games but his playtime was severely limited in several other games), but he picked up serious stem towards the end of the season and was excellent in the playoffs. Jimmy Smith is likely to walk away with the title, but both guys will see plenty of snaps throughout the season.
Cory Redding had been playing defensive end on the left side of the defense for the past two seasons, but he departed for Indianapolis to join Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck in the rebuilding effort. The Ravens have several players looking for more time on the field and more opportunity to show their skills. Pernell McPhee was something of a revelation as a rookie last season, but he may not be ready for an every down role. McPhee appears to be slotted to takeover Terrell Suggs snaps as a DE, but maybe not for Reddings full time job. Art Jones is the likely starter at the position. he is a better run defender than McPhee is and weighing in at 313 lbs(compared to 280 for McPhee) he seems to be better suited for a full time job as a 3-4 DE.
Ben Grubbs has been the Ravens starting LG since he was drafted in 2007 and in that time he has been one of the best overall Gs in the league. Grubbs left for New Orleans and The Ravens, once again, have a question mark at the position. After signing Bobbie Williams and drafting Jah Reid and Keleche Osemele the Ravens have a full fledged position battle on their hands. Most analysts have penciled in Bobbie Williams as the de facto starter, but don’t be surprised to see Osemele taking over the job sooner rather than later. I’m a big Bobbie Williams fan, but he isn’t much more than a temporary patch for the LG problem. The sooner Osemele is ready to play, the sooner he can step into the role long term.
No. 2 RB
After Ricky Williams abrupt retirement, the Ravens drafted Bernard Pierce to fill the role. Simple enough? Not quite. Anthony Allen continues to impress in minicamps and on the first day of training camp to build on a great preseason last year. As it stands now, Allen is the guy. So that seems solved, right? Wrong again. Allen and Pierce aren’t the only two players in this game. second year player Damien Berry has made big strides and added weight to a frame that held him back last year, he is now up to around 210 lbs (from 185 last year). Berry has lightning quickness, Allen is a physical mauler and Pierce is something of a middle ground between the two. According to the Ravens coaching staff, the three might all see plenty of snaps in a three headed rotation based off of situational fit.
No. 3 WR
The Ravens haven’t had a legitimate number 3 WR in years, Joe Flacco might not even know what to do with a 3rd WR if he did have one. The Lee Evans experiment was a major flop last season after Evans season started with an injury and ended with a crushing blown opportunity. The year before that T.J. Houshmanzadeh had some flashes of greatness like his game winning catch in Pittsburgh, but his Ravens career also ended with a crushing drop pass that bounced the Ravens from the playoffs. now the Ravens have turned to Laquan Williams and Jacoby Jones in their next attempt to find an answer to their woes. Jones is the knee jerk answer to who will be the starter, but it might be to early to rule out Williams who was the Ravens biggest star on day one of training camp. rookie Tommy Streeter will also look to get some play time and could be a major threat in the red zone.
No. 1 WR
The third WR job isnt the only one up for grabs. I would keep a close eye on Torrey Smith throughout camp to see if he can build on his rookie year and lap Anquan Boldin as the teams go-to WR. If Torrey continues to grow as a player, the Ravens WR group might be the best its ever been.
No. 2 QB
Tyrod Taylor was impressive enough during the preseason last year that the Ravens felt comfortable only carrying 2 QBs on the roster all year. fast forward one year and Jim Caldwell, former Colts head coach and current Ravens QB coach, has brought his former starter to Baltimore to compete with Taylor. I have trouble seeing the Ravens carry more than 2 QBs into the season because the Suggs injury is going to force them to carry more DEs and OLBs than they normally would. They need all the roster spots they can get and can’t afford to carry a bunch of QBs. I also have trouble imagining the Ravens parting ways with Tyrod Taylor. The coaching staff loves him and he has shown huge potential as both a fill in for Flacco and a potential trade chip for a QB needy team. I would be very surprised to see Taylor lose this battle.
Mike Wallace vs Steelers Management
This obviously isn’t a Ravens camp battle, but it is worth keeping an eye on nonetheless. Mike Wallace wants a new contract and is reportedly refusing to sign his RFA tender which is worth about 1.7 million as a one year deal. The Steelers cut off talks completely with a simple message. Show up to camp if you want a deal. With Mike Wallace a no-show, the Steelers have made a huge commitment to last years break out player Antonio Brown. In doing so they seem to have sent a clear message to Mike Wallace, We can play without you and we reward players who show up to camp. The tricky part of all this is that since Wallace has yet to sign his tender, he isn’t actually obligated to show up for any team activities and isn’t technically doing anything wrong. Its actually a fairly common practice among tagged players to skip camp and avoid potential injuries. Wallace is said to be seeking a deal in the neighborhood of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Anyone who knows the Steelers should know that that isn’t going to happen. further complicating matters is the Steelers cap situation. they have very little room in 2012 and their 2013 number is now almost 7 million higher than it was this morning thanks to Browns new contract. Whether Mike Wallace will play this year at all is a question and even if he does, will he suffer a Chris Johnson-esque drop in performance if his holdout goes deep into training camp?