The Ravens are coming off a 5-11 season, but you'd never know it by the excitement surrounding the team's unofficial start to the season.
As Organized Team Activities kick off this week, there is no shortage of juicy storylines.
Here are some of the biggest:
Breshad Perriman's ReturnBesides a few days of practice early last season, reporters and fans haven't seen last year's first-round pick on the field since training camp of 2015. After a lingering knee injury was aggravated, the Ravens decided to shut down Perriman's rookie season before it ever got off the ground. Perriman first has to prove that he can stay on the field and recover from practice's daily bumps and bruises. Then he has to show he can be the dynamic playmaker the Ravens believe they drafted.
Dennis Pitta's Rust
Pitta is back on the field with no visible barriers standing between him and Week 1. But while he tested his hip last season during several weeks of practice, then again this offseason playing pickup basketball, it's another test entirely to be practicing – even during non-contact OTAs. Eyes will be on Pitta to see how his hip holds up. He also has to prove that the rust from sitting out nearly two years can be shaken. In a highly competitive tight end battle, Pitta needs to not just perform, but perform well.
Others Coming Off Injury
Running back Justin Forsett (arm), tight end Crockett Gillmore (shoulder), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (back), safety Matt Elam (biceps) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) are among the other players who are returning from season-ending injuries. Campanaro, Elam and Taliaferro will be particularly under the microscope considering they have been plagued by recurring injuries.
Newcomers Need To Gel
Every year, there are new veteran additions trying to gel. This season, there are more high-profile players than usual. Safety Eric Weddle, wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Benjamin Watson and cornerback Jerraud Powers are all participating in OTAs and looking to get up to speed in a hurry. Weddle will be particularly interesting to watch to see if he takes instant command in the secondary. Wallace won't have Joe Flacco's deep ball to run under, but Ryan Mallett has more than enough arm strength to test the speedster's big-play ability. Running back Trent Richardson is also expected to practice for the first time since last year's training camp in Oakland.
Rookies Take Next Step
This year's 11-man rookie class will need to make a big contribution this season. With veteran Eugene Monroe not present at the start of OTAs, first-round pick Ronnie Stanley has a chance to show that he can handle the starting left tackle job from Day 1. Second-round outside linebacker Kamalei Correa will also get plenty of snaps with veterans Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil both not likely voluntary participants. The rookies looked good when competing just against each other, but the arrival of veterans takes practice up a notch.
There are a few position changes to monitor. Lardarius Webb has shifted to safety to utilize his playmaking potential. The Ravens tried him out at safety for a couple games at the end of the year, but this will be Webb's first extensive action at the position since college at Nicholls State. Darren Waller is transitioning from wide receiver to tight end. With so many safeties on the roster, don't be surprised if someone gets a look at linebacker.
Top Position BattlesJobs typically aren't won or lost in OTAs, but every practice counts. The positions that are most interesting are running back, tight end, wide receiver, inside linebacker, left guard and cornerback. At running back, Forsett will have to fend off a host of challengers including Buck Allen, Trent Richardson, rookie Kenneth Dixon, Taliaferro and Terrance West. At tight end, anybody could start between Watson, Gillmore, Williams or Pitta. Wide receiver is wide open with Kamar Aiken, Perriman, Wallace, Campanaro and more. Left guard will be impacted by Monroe, but John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, rookie Alex Lewis and Vlad Ducasse will compete there with Stanley at left tackle. At cornerback, Shareece Wright has company with Powers, Will Davis and more.