Eisenberg: Ravens' Search For Playmakers Is Getting Interesting


When you watch the Ravens practice, it quickly becomes apparent that they have more than enough quality running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

The organization has stockpiled so many bona fide candidates for jobs at those positions that it's inevitable some guys who belong in the league are going to get cut.

The team has already parted ways with one legitimate running back, Trent Richardson, and you can be sure he'll be followed by several other players who have experienced some measure of success in the NFL.

It's a challenging situation. The Ravens normally keep four running backs, three tight ends and six wide receivers, and by my count, their 90-man roster currently contains some two dozen candidates for jobs at those positions. Even an English major like me can see that's scary math.

The Ravens are closely monitoring the various competitions, knowing a litany of tough calls lies just ahead. But while they go about determining who stays and goes, what they're REALLY searching for are their difference-making offensive playmakers in 2016.

Who is going to step up, maybe come out of nowhere and make big plays?

The Ravens struggled in that area a year ago, especially after their depth chart was mutilated by injuries. Now, as a new season begins, they have plenty of guys who can be trusted to do a job, but what they want … what they NEED … is for one or several to take off, surpass expectations and become that difference-maker.

It happened with Justin Forsett when he went from the bottom of the running back depth chart to the Pro Bowl in 2014. Kamar Aiken made a similar journey in 2015 and ended up leading the team in receptions.

Who is going to step up in 2016? The second week of training camp is a little early to be making proclamations, but several signs are impossible to ignore.

Let's start with the revival of tight end Dennis Pitta. Many observers and maybe even some in the organization were ready to write him off after two serious hip injuries, but Pitta, 31, is healthy and appears ready to reclaim his role as one of Joe Flacco's favorite targets.

He'll be part of a tight end rotation with Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams, but if Pitta stays healthy, he's going to be on the field for his share of snaps and – this can't be emphasized enough – Flacco is going to throw to him.

In fact, I'm betting the first time the Ravens face third-and-8 this year, Flacco goes to Pitta in an attempt to move the chains.

The Ravens couldn't have counted on that possibility six months ago, but if all continues to go well with Pitta, they're certainly better for it.

Another developing situation is the potential contribution of Michael Campanaro, the third-year receiver who has been limited by injuries since joining the Ravens in 2014. Fully healthy now, he's giving the Ravens defense fits in practice, repeatedly getting open and making plays. As in Pitta's case, Flacco obviously likes throwing to him.

The Ravens drafted Campanaro with the idea that he might become their version of Wes Welker one day, and they've always loved what they see from him on the field. Remember, he got hurt a year ago while scoring a touchdown against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

If he stays healthy, he is going to do more than just make the final 53-man roster; he's going to be on the field and get a chance to show what he can do with his unusual skill set.

Several other players are making statements early in camp. I'm still expecting Forsett to become the No. 1 running back, but Terrance West is all but demanding that he be given an opportunity. At receiver, Mike Wallace is developing a nice rapport with Flacco. During a red-zone drill Wednesday, Flacco lobbed a dead-on toss to Wallace at the back of the end zone, and the veteran grabbed the ball while getting both feet down just in time – a big-time play.

The regular season doesn't begin for another six weeks, so things could always change, but the Ravens' search for playmakers is getting interesting.

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