The Ravens’ offseason concluded last week with their mandatory minicamp. Here’s what I observed over three days of practices at the Under Armour Performance Center:
- The defense, which has undergone major changes, seemed to have a lot of fun playing together. There’s no doubt
Terrell Suggsis the ringleader now, the one sending energy out to others, and he was effective in the role. The defensive sideline practically exploded whenever someone made a play in a scrimmage. There’s a long way to go and many ups and downs ahead, but the unit’s early camaraderie is promising.
- No player has a wider window of opportunity than third-year wide receiver
Tandon Doss. He frequently ran with the starters as the No. 3 receiver behind Torrey Smithand Jacoby Jones, and I think it remains to be seen whether the coaches really elevate Jones to No. 2 and lessen his duties as a returner, where he was so effective in 2012. If Jones ends up as a returner/No. 3 receiver again, Doss could start. He made some plays in minicamp but still needs to prove himself.
- Many are expecting
Jameel McClainand rookie Arthur Brownto be the starting inside linebackers in 2013, but with both dealing with injuries during minicamp, Daryl Smithand Josh Bynesran with the starters. Smith, impressively, called the signals in the Ray Lewis role even though he just signed with the team. And Bynes, entering his third season, obviously has impressed the coaches. Bottom line, the team seemingly has options at what has been a position of concern during the offseason.
- You could see why the Ravens felt comfortable going with rookie
Kyle Juszczykover veteran Vonta Leach as a receiving threat. Juszczyk lined up in a variety of spots and exhibited nice hands. It appears he could be a plug-and-play target. But you can’t tell in a minicamp whether he’s going to be effective enough as a blocker. A judgment on that will have to wait until training camp, when the pads go on. Juszczyk can’t match Leach there, but he needs to be solid or the Ravens might have to sign a veteran blocker.
- I’m not into the narrative that
Jimmy Smithand Corey Grahamare in some big competition for a starting cornerback job. Both could easily be starters early in the season if Lardarius Webbisn’t quite ready to go after rehabbing his torn ACL. And even if Webb is ready, Smith and Graham will both be on the field for a ton of plays, basically whenever an opponent uses a three-receiver set, which is most of the time. Joe Flaccolooked like the accomplished veteran he has become, very much in command. And there’s no doubt his favorite target is tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitching the ball to Pitta almost seems to be Flacco’s default mode now. The two are best friends off the field and have a keen rapport on it. You can’t manufacture that, but it would be nice to see Flacco develop the same caliber of rapport with another downfield target.
- Second-year center
Gino Gradkowskiran with the starters and it appears the job of replacing Matt Birk is his to lose. Flacco and Bryant McKinnieexpressed confidence in him. The team’s long-range plan of drafting Birk’s heir and giving him a year’s apprenticeship appears to have worked exactly as planned.
- Juan Castillo is having a big impact in his role as run game coordinator. He’s a major figure in the offensive line drills and can be seen (and heard) counseling the linemen throughout practice.
- In terms of sheer physicality, the players who stood out to me the most were 1) Suggs, for being in such terrific shape, and 2) new defensive lineman
Chris Canty, for basically towering over everyone. The veteran is listed at 6-feet-7 but looks like he could start at forward for the Miami Heat. He has nice agility, too, and is clearly going to be a helpful pickup as long as he stays healthy.
- There’s a lot of talk about the qualities that the various candidates to replace Anquan Boldin bring to the table. None are more explosive after the catch than
David Reed. He hasn’t been mentioned as much as Doss, Jones and Deonte Thompson, but he’s one of the team’s best athletes and could be a playmaker.