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Eisenberg: Things Ravens (Don't) Need Done By Week 1

Posted Aug 27, 2013

A list of items that do and don’t need to happen in the next nine days to get ready for Denver.

It’s been on the calendar for months, but the Ravens’ regular season opener is now in sight, just nine days away. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh admitted after last week’s preseason loss to Carolina that his mind would be on two games, Thursday’s preseason finale in St. Louis and the opener in Denver a week later.

In this final week of the preseason, most of the headlines will revolve around who gets cut and who makes the team – always interesting stuff. But the fringe of the roster will soon recede as a focus, replaced by the starters, the Denver game and the Ravens’ prospects for 2013.

As always, the talking points are swirling as the season nears, with the chatter so loud at times that I think it might be helpful to divide the issues into two categories – the things that need to happen in the next nine days for the Ravens to be able to put their best foot forward in Denver, and conversely, the things that don’t need to happen so immediately.

For instance, they need Ed Dickson to be fully healthy and ready to contribute as the starting tight end. That’s at the top of my list of immediate concerns.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco loves to throw to tight ends, but Dennis Pitta’s likely season-ending injury clouded the position. Dickson appeared poised to fill in nicely until he suffered a slight hamstring tear early in training camp. That led the Ravens to sign veterans Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark. They cut Shiancoe over the weekend. Clark dropped a pair of passes last Thursday night.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco loves to throw to tight ends, but Dennis Pitta’s likely season-ending injury clouded the position. Dickson appeared poised to fill in nicely until he suffered a slight hamstring tear early in training camp. That led the Ravens to sign veterans Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark. They cut Shiancoe over the weekend. Clark dropped a pair of passes last Thursday night.

Clark, with his track record, can be expected to become a contributor, but he’s 34. Dickson, 26, is in his prime and caught 51 passes two years ago 

His return appears more and more likely, and he is back at practice and looking good; Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell even called him “explosive” Monday. It’s important. To get the production they want at tight end and bring balance to their offense, the Ravens need him up and running – literally.

They also need Lardarius Webb to clear all lingering hurdles and return to the lineup at cornerback, putting his torn anterior cruciate ligament behind him.

Yes, with Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham also in house, the Ravens could survive without Webb. But he was their top cover corner before he went down last year, and has shown enough burst in practice as he returns from his injury that there’s reason to believe he can pick right back up.

With Peyton Manning on the other side of the line, Webb’s presence would help on opening night, to say the least. But he was circumspect about the chances of that happening last week, and he won’t play Thursday night, so we’ll see.

The Ravens also need to get their punt and kickoff coverage units together in the next nine days. With Brendon Ayanbadejo, Sean Considine and David Reed gone, Anthony Allen on the roster bubble and Graham a defensive starter, the units are in transition. Meanwhile, the Ravens allowed a touchdown on a punt return last week. The days leading up to the season opener could be crucial in ensuring that they don’t experience more turbulence in this area.

Now that we’ve identified some things that need to happen, let’s pinpoint issues that, in my mind, are getting too much play – things that don’t need to happen in the next nine days.

For instance, Flacco does not need to get his act together. Some believe he does because he has thrown four interceptions in the preseason. Please. The preseason doesn’t count. The coaches are tinkering. Flacco is tinkering. He’s the reigning Super Bowl MVP. He already has his act together.

The much-debated wide receiver battle also does not need to get settled in the next nine days. Sure, it will be interesting to see which young guys survive and possibly become part of the mix, but regardless, you can be sure veterans Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Brandon Stokley will grab most of the passes from Flacco early in the season.

Oh, and one more thing: The members of the reconfigured defense don’t have to figure out how to play alongside each other in the next nine days.

They already have.


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