With Organized Team Activity practices beginning this week at the Under Armour Performance Center, the Ravens' march toward the 2015 regular season officially commences.
The OTA season culminates with a mandatory minicamp in June, which is a prelude to training camp, which gives way to the exhibition season, which is the last step before … kickoff in Denver on Sept 13.
That sounds quick, but it's not. The Ravens won't play a snap that counts for another three-and-a-half months. A lot of practice time lies ahead.
Fortunately for them, after filling most of their pressing needs through the draft, free agency and other signings, the Ravens don't have that many major areas of uncertainty – certainly less than a lot of teams.
But unanswered questions do exist. The questions probably won't get answered in OTAs in the next few weeks, but regardless, here's some of what the Ravens need to decide in the next three-and-a-half months:
Who backs up Justin Forsett?
The Ravens' running back piled up 235 carries during his breakout 2014 season, but the team's other backs combined for 167 carries, which is a lot. Forsett can expect the same load in 2015, but plenty of opportunity exists behind him. Lorenzo Taliaferro moved piles at times as a rookie in 2014 and could be a short-yardage option, but my eyes are on rookie Buck Allen, who totaled almost 2,000 rushing and receiving yards for Southern Cal last season. Am I missing something? That sounds pretty darn good.
Who is the No. 3 receiver?
Steve Smith, Sr. is a starter and the Ravens hope rookie Breshad Perriman becomes an immediate contributor. But what happens after that? Is the No. 3 job a by-committee affair with Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken, or does one win the job outright? Does Michael Campanaro elbow his way into the rotation as a slot guy? Does big-bodied rookie Darren Waller become a viable red-zone option? Lots of playing time and catches are up for grabs, and practice performances will matter. My eyes are on Aiken, whose longshot tale began with strong OTA practices a year ago.
How do things shake out at tight end?
A pleasant logjam has developed. The Ravens have three recent draft picks, including Maxx Williams, their 2015 second-round selection, of whom much is expected. And the early (very early admittedly) signs about Dennis Pitta's possible return are positive. If Pitta, formerly Joe Flacco's security blanket, can come back from another hip injury, he probably rises to the top, just ahead of Williams. But I can already see both on the field in a double tight end set, which could be a matchup nightmare. Crockett Gillmore and Nick Boyle will also get snaps, and don't forget, Gilmore came on strong as a receiver late last season.
Can safety Matt Elam reclaim a bigger role?
The Ravens' 2013 first-round pick lost his starting job last year, and the team has penciled in veterans Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis to start at the back end of the defense. But Elam was a high pick for a reason, and the Ravens would love to see him find his footing and disrupt the depth chart. They like the commitment he has shown since the end of last season, but they want to see good things on the practice field.
Is the OL healthy and good to go by September?
All five starters return from a strong 2014 unit, but tackles Rick Wagner (foot) and Eugene Monroe (knee, ankle) are coming back from injuries and center Jeremy Zuttah underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his hip. The Ravens expect them all to be ready in September, but if one or more isn't, at least there's a viable Plan B now that John Urschel and James Hurst started playoff games as rookies last season. One way or another, the Ravens need to reprise their strong running game from 2014.
Who returns kickoffs and punts?
As of now, Asa Jackson and Michael Campanaro are probably the favorites to replace Jacoby Jones, who handled both duties for the past three years. Jones produced big plays but the Ravens weren't always 100 percent comfortable with his decision-making. They're looking for someone to provide some of the same explosiveness while also showing restraint when needed. Lardarius Webb might be their best punt returner, but he's too valuable to do it all the time. Lots of guys will get looks, and a fringe player could grab part of the job, improving his chances of making the team.