Believe it or not, the NFL regular season is virtually around the corner. Well, that might be a bit of a stretch, but what is surely already here are training camps across the nation, including the Baltimore Ravens' one kicking off on Tuesday, July 25.
With the next month including multiple practices and pre-season games, it will be crucial for all players on the boundaries of making the roster and clinching a starting role in the lineup to put on some serious performances through July and August.
One of the most interesting battles expected to take place in the Ravens camp, according to Matthew Washington of The Score, will involve the inside linebacker unit and who will be the man emerging as Roquan Smith's main partner in crime next season.
Washington listed three players he expects to fight for that coveted ILB2 role: Patrick Queen, Trenton Simpson, and Malik Harrison.
"The Ravens initially gave Queen the first crack at owning the position, but he failed to live up to his billing as a former first-round pick. Baltimore opted not to pick up the fifth-year option on Queen's rookie deal in the offseason. Eager to bring in competition, it drafted former Clemson standout Simpson this spring. Former mid-round pick Harrison has received infrequent reps as a starter through three seasons. With Smith re-signed and locked into one of the starting roles, who's set to line up beside him?"- Matthew Washington, The Score
You know the story by now: Queen is entering the final year of his rookie deal and he's doing so after Baltimore declined to active the fifth-year option in such deal.
In order to make up for his eventual departure next spring, the Ravens drafted rookie Trenton Simpson out of Clemson in the last draft, but it might be a bit too early for the freshman to take on a leading and starting role in the middle of the line.
Finally, Baltimore will have an extra option in former 2020 third-round pick Malik Harrison, who has yet to top 264 defensive snaps in a single season playing for the Ravens since he entered the league three seasons ago, with his main contributions coming on special-team duties.
With that in mind, Washington thinks Patrick Queen will emerge as the winner of the battle, thus getting the nod next to Roquean Smith as the second-fiddle middle linebacker.
"Although the Ravens didn't pick up his option, Queen should have plenty of motivation in a prove-it year," Washington wrote. That's perfectly coherent and valid, and the truth is that whether Queen stays in Baltimore next year or not, he will need to prove his worth if he wants to fill his pockets next spring by getting paid by the Ravens or any other franchise willing to sign him.
As the analyst pointed out, Queen's play "noticeably picked up" after the Ravens traded for Chicago Bears ILB Roquan Smith right before the trade deadline.
That alone should give Queen a sizable advantage over his rival in this positional battle and make him the favorite to take over the ILB2 position once more come September.