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Eisenberg: One Big-Picture Theme Consistently Stands Out For Ravens


There was a lot to take in at Thursday's Organized Team Activity practice, which was open to the media. Breshad Perriman and Dennis Pitta ran around as if they had never been injured. Eric Weddle looked like such a potential upgrade that to call him transformative might be underselling it. 

But beyond individual developments, one big-picture theme stood out:

The Ravens have more tight ends than they need. Also more running backs than they need. Oh, and more wide receivers and safeties than they need.

I already knew all that from watching their roster develop, but seeing the players in the flesh Thursday, the point was driven home with emphasis – not only that those positions are overcrowded, but that the Ravens are employing a distinct philosophy as they try to bounce back from their disappointing 2015 season.

It was called "creative tension" back in the day (way back) when I worked in a newsroom full of young, hungry reporters. The editors' idea was to throw us all together and hope we made each other – and the newspaper – better.

That pretty much sums up how the Ravens are trying to turn things around.

They've loaded up their roster with candidates who will push each for jobs and snaps, the idea being to benefit the greater good in the process.

Sure, there's more to their plan than that. Any blueprint for success in 2016 begins with their injured veterans coming back healthy. Injuries so debilitated the Ravens in 2014 and 2015 that they've changed some fundamental training techniques and hired a "recovery coach" in hopes of preventing a reprise.

They've also clearly emphasized forcing turnovers after their defense set a franchise record for fewest interceptions in 2015 and struggled in general to make plays. Thursday's OTA included drills for linebackers and defensive linemen to handle the ball, seemingly intended to familiarize them with it.

But in terms of personnel, the Ravens have brought in new blood, lots of it, the idea being to create an edgy environment marked by job competitions so fierce that even starters can't take their roster spots for granted.

Why do you think the Ravens held onto all 11 of their draft picks instead of packaging several in a trade? Why do you think they went against their normal procedure and signed several well-known free agents who counted against them in the comp-pick scenario they love?

Their watchword for 2016 is new, new, new.

Hey, if a 5-11 record doesn't tell you it's time for change, what does?

I know, there's always new blood; the average NFL roster turns over 15 percent every year. Jobs are always up for grabs.

But the Ravens are taking the case to an extreme this year. One-third of their 90-man OTA roster is new to Baltimore, the combination of rookies and veterans comprising a new wave certain to alter the depth chart, perhaps significantly.

Right now, the roster includes six running backs who have carried a load or shown promise. Conventional expectations have Justin Forsett starting, Buck Allen backing him up and rookie Kenneth Dixon also getting a shot, leaving Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Trent Richardson battling for a deep-depth roster spot.

But this could be a year when conventional expectations get shattered. West has added strength. Richardson is an intriguing candidate. I'd be careful thinking you know what's going to happen.

The same is true at tight end, especially with Pitta joining an already-crowded clan that includes Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller. The depth-chart order is up for grabs, but what the Ravens really want is for someone to emerge in a big way from the spirited battle.

At receiver, Perriman is a roster lock along with Mike Wallace, Steve Smith Sr., and Kamar Aiken, but after that, a whole batch of young candidates are competing for just a couple of jobs. Keenan Reynolds and Michael Campanaro appear to be the same kind of slot receiver. That should be interesting.

At safety, Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb figure to start, but Kendrick Lewis spent time with the starters Thursday and Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks still have a ton to prove. Again, I'd be careful thinking you've got it figured out. If anything was apparent Thursday, it's that the Ravens are ready and willing to embrace significant change. Their roster proves it.

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