with training camp fast approaching and less than a month from the return of NFL football, I thought it would be good to look at the most interesting training camp battles the Ravens will have going on. The Ravens are set at most positions, but there are still a few up for grabs.
5. Center- The retirement of Matt Birk left a hole in the middle of the Ravens offensive line. Birk is one of the best centers in NFL history, but was at the end of his career and wasnt the player he used to be. PFF graded him out as a pretty average player last year. That said, the Ravens still have to replace him and they don’t have anyone who is going to have the experience in calling shifts from before the snap like Birk. The clear favorite is second year player from Delaware Gino Gradkowski. Gradkowski has taken nearly every first team rep this offseason and comes into camp being a heavy heavy favorite to win the job. That said, trade acquisition A.Q. Shipley actually has NFL game experience and played at a pretty high level last year and he could make things interesting. Rookie Ryan Jensen is also in the competition, but he is a very long-shot to steal the job.
Projected winner: Gino Gradkowski
4. Cornerback- This is a much more interesting battle than the center position. The Ravens have a bevy of talented secondary players, but they all need to prove they can play at a high level consistently. With Lardarius Webb likely to be eased into the starting lineup, this battle may be a moot point as both contenders could start the season as starters, but still, it will be interesting none-the-less. The two main contenders for this job are Home grown draft pick Jimmy Smith and Last years free agent steal Corey Graham. I would imagine the Ravens will give Smith every opportunity to win this battle because of his draft status, but Graham played very well as a starter last year after Webb was injured. Smith has played very well when he has been healthy, but he has had big time issues staying on the field. He has missed basically half a season in each of his first two years. That said, Smith was a revelation in the playoffs two years running and has made a ton of big plays. Smith has shed 10 lbs. in the offseason to try and stay healthier and get quicker. Both players will get plenty of playing time so this may be considered an anti-climactic conflict, but still it will be interesting to see who wins the starting job. Graham may be the favorite right now, but there is no doubt that Smith is the more talented player and in the end, his talent should win out.
Projected Winner: Jimmy Smith
3. Inside Linebacker- The Ravens havent had a real roster battle at ILB in their entire history. Ray Lewis has been the absolute staple of the Ravens defense for the past 17 years, but that is over now and the Ravens need 2 new starters. They have 5 players to choose from. The incumbent starter is Jameel McClain. McCain has been the starter for 2 years, but missed the last half of last season with a neck injury he still has not been cleared from. The favorite to land a job is probably recent free agent signing Daryl Smith. Smith has had a very good career and is a savvy veteran. The Ravens got a bargain on him because he spent most of last season on IR and needs to prove he is healthy and back to form. The third guy is rookie Arthur Brown. Brown is full of fire and the Ravens didnt draft him to sit on the bench. The wild cards here are Albert McClellan and Bryan Hall. Both players are in the midst of a position swap(OLB for McClellan and DT for Hall). McClellan had some really great games last year and has all to tools to play ILB. Hall has shown his commitment to the position change by losing over 55 lbs. to try and win a job. this might be the most interesting battle in camp.
Projected Winners: Jameel McClain & Daryl Smith
2. NT/DE- No one seems to be talking about this battle, but it is fascinating to me. The Ravens made a huge push to get bigger and better on the defensive line and signed Marcus Spears and Chris Canty as well as drafting Brandon Williams. Now the coaches have a 3 man front that is 8 players deep with all sorts of rotations they can use for different purposes. Ngata wants to move back to nose tackle, the coaches want him there as well. That said, the Ravens best line might feature rookie Brandon Williams which would force Ngata back outside. the key will be if the Ravens have a bigger drop in production between Ngata and Williams at NT or between Ngata and whoever wins the other DE job. if Williams is closer to NGatas level than the DEs are, it makes sense to start the best thrre guys, even if that means Ngata is back at DE.
Projected Winners: Arthur Jones, Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty with plenty of Brandon Williams in rotation.
1. Wide Receiver 2/3- Here is the one everybody is talking about. We all know about the Ravens trading Anquan Boldin to avoid his giant cap hit. We also all know the contenders here. Return guru Jacoby Jones who has struggled as a full time starter in the past. #rd year draft pick Tandon Doss, hand picked by Flacco, but has had a string of frustrating drops and poor plays in NFL action. second year UDFA Deonte Thompson who might be the fastest player on the Ravens roster and is rapidly improving. Third year UDFA Laquan Williams, a classmate of Torrey Smith and a part time starter in his rookie year when Lee Evans was hurt. Doss is clearly the favorite here, and Thompson is everybody’s favorite sleeper, but dont sleep on Williams and Jones either. Jones seemed to find some serious chemistry with Flacco last year and with Torrey Smith likely to become a more well rounded receiver instead of just running go routes like Cam Cameron forced him to do, Jones could take over Smiths deep role. Williams might have the best hands on the roster and runs good routes and has solid speed. This battle will go right down to the wire and projecting a winner is just a crap shoot.
Projected Winners: Jacoby Jones/Tandon Doss
Buy your Ravens tickets for the preseason to check out these 5 training camp battles in person!