What was the biggest headline from the Ravens’ first week of Organized Team Activity practices?
If public chatter is any measure, it was something they didn’t do. They didn’t sign Victor Cruz, the free agent wide receiver who had several big seasons with the Giants a few years ago.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has said he wants a “complementary” receiver, and Cruz, who caught 39 passes in 2016, was the best-known free agent option still available, along with Anquan Boldin. Cruz signed with the Chicago Bears Thursday, just as the Ravens were finishing their first week of OTAs.
I wasn’t surprised. Recent stories citing “mutual interest” between Cruz and Baltimore sounded to me like an agent trying to drum up interest. Cruz, 30, bounced back from several injuries in 2016, but he wasn’t much of a playmaker. It’s not guaranteed he’ll make the Bears’ roster.
Boldin, who caught 67 passes in Detroit last year, seems like a better fit, but I’m also beginning to wonder whether he’ll end up here. I’m increasingly unsure that the Ravens really consider Boldin a better option at 37 than some of their young receivers.
That’s what this spring practice season is all about for the Ravens, answering the biggest question still looming over them: At what positions, if any, do they need to make a move?
I’m sure they’ll add a player *somewhere *between now and the start of the season in September. Put it this way: If they don’t, it would mark the first time they had their starting lineup deciphered on Memorial Day. That just doesn’t happen.
No, Newsome always says he’s looking to add players, and I’m sure he’s looking right now at centers, right tackles, inside linebackers and receivers – positions where starting jobs are up for grabs.
But the Ravens had homegrown talent manning those spots at OTAs last week. Head Coach John Harbaugh effusively praised Ryan Jensen and James Hurst as options at center and right tackle. Kamalei Correa took Zach Orr’s place at inside linebacker. Several young receivers made plays.
It would be great to know what Newsome thought, but as always, he sat in a chair overlooking practice and didn’t speak to the media. He isn’t scheduled to speak all spring. We’ll eventually know what he thought, but the tipoff will be what he does, not says. We’ve seen it before. A quiet summer day is interrupted by the news that the Ravens signed a player. They’ve done it forever, plugged veterans into holes late in the team-building process. But where will they do it this time?
Here are my best guesses as to where things stand at the positions under scrutiny:
Center – I think the chances of a veteran addition here are dwindling. Harbaugh praised Jensen and John Urschel as being “really impressive” in “becoming what we want to see inside with our centers.” That’s a big guy who won’t get pushed around, and Jensen and Urschel both have bulked up. To borrow a horse racing analogy, Jensen, labeled a “tone setter” by Harbaugh, is coming up fast on the outside.
Right tackle – Pro Football Focus was brutal on Hurst in 2014 and 2015, but concedes the former undrafted free agent improved in 2016, allowing no sacks on 305 snaps. (Yup, look it up.) He’s the most experienced option, and it’s a position where tight ends can help stave off rushers. But “relying on Hurst to start and play well is unlikely,” PFF wrote. If the Ravens add a veteran lineman, it will likely be here.
Wide receiver – Breshad Perriman impressed everyone last week, but that’s another story. The question is about the playmaking potential among the receivers other than Perriman and Mike Wallace. Michael Campanaro has proved he can contribute, but he also needs to prove he can stay healthy. The organization is high on Chris Moore. But none of that should deter Newsome from adding another target for Joe Flacco. I’m still expecting it via a trade.
Inside linebacker – Correa only played 49 snaps as a rookie, all but eight at an edge position, according to PFF. So the Ravens are hoping he can not only step up and start, but also man a spot where he has spent little time. I’m guessing they envision him as a two-down guy. It’s hard to make an assessment before the pads come on, but the Ravens would love to be able to pencil in Correa.