The analysis of an NFL roster tends to focus on the mesh of talents at the top. Who are the starters? How do they rate? Are enough capable of carrying a load?
The issue of depth often gets lost in the conversation, which is understandable because it's not especially exciting, but also pretty funny, because depth becomes absolutely crucial as every team's season plays out.
Injuries are a routine part of NFL football. I hate to say it out loud, but bad things happen and no team is excused. There's an old saying about a season being a war of attrition more than a continuum of games, and it's hard to argue.
The Ravens have certainly experienced their share of major injuries over the years, testing their ability to endure. So how deep are they now? Where are they set to withstand injuries and where are they more vulnerable? Let's take a look on the eve of the start of training camp.
QUARTERBACK – Joe Flacco is entering his seventh pro season and has never missed a start, so while there's always a lot of conversation about who backs him up, it's pretty moot. Tyrod Taylor has the job right now, but as is the case for most teams, an injury under center would be devastating regardless of who backs up the starter.
RUNNING BACK – Depth here is especially crucial with starter Ray Rice likely facing a suspension at the start of the season. The de facto No. 2, Bernard Pierce, is coming off a limited offseason in the wake of shoulder surgery. Veteran Justin Forsett had six carries last year. Lorenzo Taliaferro is a rookie from Coastal Carolina. Some interesting options in there, but questions abound.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Upgrading this unit was an offseason priority after it struggled last season, but several guys who lost starting jobs are still around, which makes for solid depth. After starting every game in 2013, Gino Gradkowski is certainly a quality Plan B in 2014 if someone goes down. A.Q. Shipley also has been in the fray. The Ravens won't be afraid to use those guys or several others.
WIDE RECEIVER – The Ravens have not always been deep here, but with the addition of Steve Smith Sr. and the emergence of Marlon Brown, they have more options. Those two, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones give Flacco four quality targets, and the Ravens hope Michael Campanaro becomes a slot option. Torrey Smith's speed can't be replicated, but an injury at this position wouldn't be as crushing as before.
TIGHT END – Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels are penciled in for heavy use in Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's scheme. A rookie, Crockett Gillmore, will back them up, so not a lot of experience there.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Depth is vital here, as Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees likes to rotate as many as six guys in and out. The team is counting on several of a batch of recent draft picks to become puzzle pieces along with veterans Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and DeAngelo Tyson. Lots of options, probably enough.
INSIDE LINEBACKER – Daryl Smith and rookie C.J. Mosley are expected to start, with Arthur Brown also getting a lot of snaps. Backups Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes have started before and could easily step in. Deep group.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER – Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw take most of the snaps, with Pernell McPhee the next man up and John Simon hoping to play his way into the mix. There's a drop-off after the frontliners.
CORNERBACK – The Ravens were concerned enough to sign veterans Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks after minicamp tryouts last month. Starters Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are set, but things get a little cloudy after that. Is Chykie Brown or one of the new guys the No. 3? Is Asa Jackson ready to contribute? Can the new guys really help?
SAFETY – For now, it appears Darian Stewart will start alongside Matt Elam, which leaves rookie Terrence Brooks and several other young guys as the backups. Some uncertainty, but the Ravens have a history of going with undrafted free agents here, so stay tuned.