The Ravens are in the midst of their voluntary offseason conditioning program and the intensity will ramp up a bit this week with the start of Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
Veterans and rookies are all able to get on the practice field during OTAs, although NFL rules still prohibit full-contact drills. The Ravens will hold 10 OTAs over three weeks, with one practice each week open to media viewing.
Here are ten items to watch during OTAs:
1. Impact of Kubiak's Offense
The Ravens have undergone their first total offensive system change under Head Coach John Harbaugh's tenure. Gary Kubiak brought his West Coast scheme when he arrived as the offensive coordinator, and the Ravens are in the process of making the transition. The early reviews from the players have all been positive, and mastering the system is a critical component of the next few months. The season is around the corner, and the offense needs to be humming with three early matchups against AFC North opponents in September.
2. New look offensive line
The offensive line was one of the biggest reasons for the Ravens' struggles last season, as the group struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco and open holes in the running game. There have been some noticeable changes to the group since last season, as the Ravens traded for veteran center Jeremy Zuttah and lost starting right tackle Michael Oher in free agency. Second-year tackle Rick Wagner is now slated to start at right tackle, and he likely needs a strong showing during the offseason to keep the Ravens from bringing in another veteran. Third-year lineman Kelechi Osemele is also back in the lineup at left guard after having season-ending back surgery last year.
3. Steve Smith, Sr. fitting in with the offense
One of the biggest moves of the offseason was the addition of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith,Sr. The former Carolina Panther gives the Ravens a proven playmaker who can move the chains, and also brings a toughness to the offense. He has quickly made the transition to Baltimore to participate in offseason workouts, and he will use OTAs to continue building a rapport with Flacco.
4. How does slimmer, healthier Ray Rice move on the field?
The seventh-year running back played through a hip injury last season and wasn't himself for much of the year. The Ravens have acknowledged that he weighed too much last season, and he has dropped significant weight during the offseason months. Rice has reportedly lost 20 pounds as part of an effort to get back to Pro Bowl form, and OTAs will be the first chance to see him back on the field.
5. C.J. Mosley getting reps with the first-team defense
First-round pick C.J. Mosley garnered plenty of praise for the strong first impression he made at rookie minicamp, but now he will step on the field with the rest of the big boys at OTAs. The Ravens expect Mosley to take on a starting role alongside veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith this season, and he can use OTAs as a chance to develop a feel for the Ravens defense.
6. Rookies running with the starters
Mosley isn't the only rookie expected to contend for a starting job, as second-round defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and third-round safety Terrence Brooks will both compete for playing time. OTAs will be a chance to see which rookies get reps with the first-team, giving an early indication on who may end up in the starting lineup.
7. How sharp is Flacco?
Flacco is coming of a personally frustrating season, as he threw a career-high 22 interceptions in 2013. A big part of last year's struggles were the lack of protection from the offensive line and injuries to key targets like tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Now Flacco has all of his targets healthy and participating in the voluntary workouts, which should have the veteran quarterback looking sharp even though it's still early.
8. Who is in attendance?
The Ravens have typically had strong attendance during the voluntary workouts, and this season has been no exception. Key players like Flacco, Pitta, Rice, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Eugene Monroe are all among the veteran participants, and the expectation is for the Ravens to have strong numbers during OTAs. Having a good turnout is critical, especially on offense as the Ravens learn Kubiak's new system.
9. Any undrafted players stand out?
There is always plenty of interest about the undrafted players and their chances of making the roster, and the Ravens have some intriguing prospects who could be in the running this year. The rookie free agent tackles and cornerbacks will have a chance to play their way onto the team this summer, and this week will be an early opportunity to put themselves on the coaching staff's radar.
10. Keep everyone healthy
As important as it is to get the players on the field to see them in action, it's equally critical to avoid any big-time injuries at this point of the year. The Ravens dealt with a serious injury to Pitta last year in training camp, and they want to avoid a similar situation this season. Contact is limited during OTAs, which generally keeps players healthy, and the Ravens hope they come out of the workouts without too many trips to the training room.