Scattershooting about the Ravens as the drip-drip-drip countdown to training camp continues:
If the wait for the start of a new season feels especially long this year, I think there’s a simple explanation – at least for fans who follow Baltimore’s entire sports scene.
The Orioles have baseball’s worst record. It’s not surprising because they’ve undertaken a complete organizational rebuild, guaranteeing a few rough seasons in the short term. We’ll see how it goes – for the record, I support what they’re doing and don’t mind watching young talent develop.
That doesn’t have anything to do with the Ravens, but if the sentiments of some fans whom I know count for anything, the losing baseball season has a lot of people really tapping their toes for football’s arrival. As proof, parking passes for the team’s 14 open/free training camp practices at the Under Armour Performance Center were gobbled up in just 38 minutes.
No starting position on the Ravens is more up for grabs than left guard. There are a few spots on the defense where a rotation likely will be in effect (inside linebacker, right outside linebacker, defensive end), but left guard is really the only every-down job without a name attached.
A bevy of candidates are in the running. Here are my pre-camp power rankings:
1: James Hurst. He’s the incumbent, with 42 career starts. The Ravens aren’t going to replace him unless a better alternative presents itself.
2: Alex Lewis. He has played at a starting-caliber level before and the versatile Hurst could be valuable in a utility role. The problem with that scenario is injuries have slowed Lewis’ development and he missed the offseason due to shoulder surgery. His star has fallen, but a job is still there for the taking.
3: Jermaine Eluemunor. Somewhat surprisingly, the third-year player ran with the starters during minicamp last month. But Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh called it a tryout.
4: Bradley Bozeman: Saw action at the position as a rookie. Also in the mix at center.
5: Ben Powers. The Ravens are high on the rugged rookie, but he’ll likely need time to develop.
The kickoff and punt return jobs are also up for grabs, with so many possibilities in play that I can’t address them all.
Ordinarily, Cyrus Jones would be favored to win the punt return job after handling it well last season, but he missed minicamp due to an unspecified health issue, opening the door to other candidates. I’d keep an eye on running back Tyler Ervin, who handled the job well for the Houston Texans before being cut last year and landing on the Ravens’ practice squad.
Yes, the Ravens already have more running backs than they need, but a punt returner is important enough to make the roster strictly for that skill, as Jones did last season.
As for the kickoff return job, it seemingly becomes less important every year – the Ravens only returned 32 kickoffs in 16 games in 2018. It’s hard to envision a roster spot going to someone strictly for that skill. Chris Moore can do it, but I’d keep an eye on Justice Hill, the speedy rookie running back.
One of my favorite moments of the offseason took place at minicamp when Lamar Jackson was asked if he’d get together “off campus” with his receivers to work on building chemistry before training camp – an issue that was over-scrutinized, to put it mildly, when Joe Flacco was the Ravens’ quarterback.
Jackson said he would try, prompting a reporter to ask “how” he would get everyone together – as if it were some mysterious, Herculean task.
“Group text,” Jackson shrugged.
A two-word answer. Next subject, please. (And as you may know, Jackson and backup Robert Griffin III did throw to Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore, as evidenced by a picture posted on social media.)
If asked to identify one Ravens record likely to fall in 2019, I’d go with the team record for rushing yards in a season.
That record of 2,674 yards, or 167.1 per game, was set in 2003, the year Jamal Lewis gained 2,066 by himself. The Ravens actually fell quite short of that last season even though their per-game average of 152.6 rushing yards was good for a No. 2 league ranking.
But they averaged a whopping 229.6 yards per game on the ground last season once Lamar Jackson become the starting quarterback, and Jackson, of course, will start from the outset this season. That average over 16 games would result in a season total that breaks the record by almost a thousand yards.
One way or another, that’s a record under serious threat.