Although they are the Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens have underwent quite the facelift this offseason. The era of the greatest linebacker and safety in franchise history is over. Ray Lewis has ridden off into the sunset with the Lombardi trophy, and Ed Reed has moved on to the Houston Texans. The Ravens also lost their number one wide receiver of the last few years as Anquan Bolden departed for San Francisco for a seventh round pick. That leaves the Ravens with many open spots and many young, talented players licking their chops for a chance to play a large role on a very successful team. Now the question is, who will fill the roles left behind by these players?
This will definitely be the most intense battle coming out of mini camp. This battle will more than likely extend into the preseason and could even leak into a lineup change during the course of the season. Sadly there are factors that are included in this battle that the Ravens cannot control that include injuries and even legal proceedings. For right now however, I would have to give the nod to Rolando McClain. The troubled linebacker from the University of Alabama was released early this off season by the Oakland Raiders because of some off the field issues. He was quickly scarfed by the Ravens but has already found himself involved in more off the field issues since his signing. If Rolando can get his act together, there is no denying that he has the most talent out of anyone vying for this position and will most likely be the favorite to start on opening night. However, if he struggles to get his act together as he has in the past he has some fantastic talent waiting in line behind him. After McClain there is a whole bunch of depth at the MLB position for the Ravens. Jameel McClain, the sixth year veteran has played sparingly behind Ray Lewis for years. However, with Lewis gone some would say that Jameel should be next in line. The only thing that could stop him would be if his old pal, the injury bug came knocking again this season. Jameel is coming off of a scary season ending injury neck injury last season and hopes to return to full strength by training camp. Another solid option that could sneak up on people is Arthur Brown, the Ravens second round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Kansas State alum, was considered by many to be one of the top MLB prospects in the draft but like many slipped into the second round where the Ravens scarfed him up. Brown is a fast, but also very physical linebacker who will develop over the course of the offseason and could potentially play a significant role as the season rolls on.
I could go into a long talk about the front runners and the other options for this position but honestly I do not know how much of a battle it will be at safety. Fans have been concerned all off season about the loss of Ed Reed but I am here to tell you now the Ravens defense will not miss a beat without him. Shortly after the Ravens knew Reed wouldn’t be back they announced the signing of another former Raider, Michael Huff. The University of Texas product is a ball hawk of a lesser caliber than Ed, who possesses eleven interceptions in an eight year career. Huff can really play the game, and with proper coaching which me more than likely never received in Oakland could blossom into a superstar with the Ravens. To go along with Huff, and replace the also departed Bernard Pollard was none other that first round draft pick and future defensive superstar in this league, Matt Elam. Elam is a player who made receivers fear going across the middle of the field when they played the Florida Gators last season. The hard hitting but also play making safety has been compared to Ed Reed and many believe he is the future leader of this defense. Other than these two, I don’t see anybody stepping up and reaching for a starting role in the defensive backfield. These two will be the back line of defense on opening night and could blossom into a pairing that excite Ravens fans for years to come.
This race is the definition of wide open. To stress it a little more, when I say wide open I mean WIDE OPEN. The one thing that will remain constant for the core is Torrey Smith, who will step into Anquan Bolden’s role as Joe Flacco’s number one target. However, after Torrey the question marks start popping up all over the place. Can Jacoby Jones be a top notch receiver? Well at this point, we honestly don’t know that. Jones has been overshadowed by Smith and Bolden and even after his tremendous post season, questions still remain about how effective he can be as a premiere guy. Some expect that Ozzie Newsome is not done as far as free agency goes and could pick up another receiver to sure up the core. Many expected the Ravens to pick a wide receiver in the early rounds, but a receiver didn’t hear his name called with the Ravens on the clock until the seventh round when the team selected Aaron Mellette from Elon. Other names in the race include Tandon Doss, Tori Gurley, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams, and David Reed. I don’t know about you guys but that list of names has me raising my eye brows about how productive this receiving core can be this season. Does Ozzie know something we don’t know? The answer is more than likely yes, but fans of the team still worry about the amount of targets that the new highly paid Joe Flacco will have to throw to in the upcoming season. Whatever the solution is, I’m sure Mr. Newsome will have his fan base feeling more than comfortable about their team and a possible repeat heading into the evening on September 5th, 2013.
So in recap the candidates for position battles are as follows:
MLB: Rolando McClain, Jameel McClain, Arthur Brown
S: Matt Elam, Michael Huff
WR: Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, ???