Eisenberg: The Most Important Raven Flying Under the Radar

051419_Eisenberg

Scattershooting about the Ravens with the draft in the rear-view mirror and Organized Team Activity practices looming:

Willie Henry gets my vote as the possibly most important Ravens player flying furthest under the radar. (Got that?)

The fourth-year defensive lineman has been out of sight and mind because he barely saw the field in 2018. He missed the first quarter of the season due to hernia surgery, then played in three games before going on injured reserve in October. The defense performed well without him. It’s easy to forget he’s still on the depth chart.

But the Ravens have high hopes for what Henry, 25, can provide in 2019. They expect him to rejoin the D-line rotation and possibly even start.

The last time he saw significant snaps, in 2017, he was the team’s best interior pass rusher, a consistent high-energy presence. He finished that season with 3.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 32 tackles.

With the edge rush in transition after Terrell Suggs’ departure, other sources of pressure might need to step up. If Henry is healthy and able to reclaim his form from 2017, his talent for getting to quarterbacks up the middle could prove especially valuable.

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The Ravens find themselves with four viable running backs after drafting Justice Hill last month. Four is one more than they usually keep, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all make the roster.

Mark Ingram II presumably is the starter, and Gus Edwards, who led the team in rushing in 2018, is also a roster lock. The Ravens are excited to see what the speedy Hill can do.

That leaves Kenneth Dixon, certainly the most vulnerable of the four now that Hill is around. Injuries and suspensions have impacted his career arc, but when last seen down the stretch in 2018, Dixon was picking up chunks of yardage with a furious, almost maniacal rushing style. I’d be hesitant to let that go.

It remains to be seen how the snaps and carries will be divided up, but we know the Ravens plan to rely on their ground game. That means a heavy load for the backs, a ton of contact.

It’s quite possible they’ll need all four guys to get through the long season.

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I’ve seen and heard it suggested the Ravens’ veteran wide receivers could land on the roster bubble now that the team has so many young guys at the position. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Willie Snead IV led the team in receptions in 2018. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh loves his battling style in the slot. I expect him to remain the No. 1 guy there.

Chris Moore, now in his fourth year, could well be a Week 1 starter if he shines on the practice field.

I suppose it’s possible a young guy could make the team over Seth Roberts, who signed a one-year deal as a free agent after the Oakland Raiders released him. But with 158 career receptions over four pro seasons (13 for touchdowns), Roberts, 28, is a proven target who should be able to produce while the young guys find their footing in the pros.

I expect all three to be on the roster.

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Fact: The Ravens have never held a practice at the Under Armour Performance Center without Suggs as part of the organization. He was drafted in 2003, the year before “the Castle” opened.

When OTAs begin next week, it’ll definitely be weird to watch a practice unfold without Suggs’ stream of chatter. (He signed with the Arizona Cardinals.) But it might be even weirder to watch the special teams practice without the familiar, booming instruction of Jerry Rosburg, who coordinated the Ravens’ special teams for 11 years before announcing his retirement in March.

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With live contact not permitted, OTA drills generally don’t provide answers to important questions. But the answer to the Ravens’ most pressing question of 2019 will at least be updated in the coming weeks. Is Lamar Jackson’s passing improved? The Ravens are counting on it. Jackson has been working on it. His OTA tosses will receive heavy scrutiny.

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