Top Question For Seven Ravens Positions
We're at the time of year when there are more questions than answers about the Ravens' 2017 roster.
The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec outlined the biggest question at each position, and I've pulled out seven below:
1) Quarterback: What will the Ravens do to stop Joe Flacco's regression?
Ravens brass said they are confident Flacco will be much improved next season for two reasons: they'll build around him better and he'll be much healthier another year removed from knee surgery. "Much of this is Flacco's responsibility," Zrebiec wrote. "None of the other potential roster improvements will matter much unless Flacco plays at a much higher level."
2) Running back: Are the Ravens actually considering using their first-round pick on a running back?
The Ravens have used a third- or fourth-round pick on a running back in four out of the last five years. Head Coach John Harbaugh would like a game breaker to complement physical backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, but to do that, the team may have to invest more than a middle-round selection (or dip into free agency). Are the Ravens willing to do that? "If one of the draft's top two ball carriers – LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook – is surprisingly available when the Ravens are on the clock at No. 16, they certainly would have a lot to think about," wrote Zrebiec.
3*) Wide receiver: What will the Ravens do with Mike Wallace?
*Says Zrebiec, "Wallace exceeded expectations in his first season with the Ravens, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark and proving he has plenty left. However, Wallace's $8 million salary-cap hit in 2017 is the fifth highest on the team, and the Ravens may think the $5.75 million they would save by releasing him would be more beneficial in building their roster."
*4) Tight end: Is there room for veterans Dennis Pitta and Benjamin Watson?
*When healthy, the Ravens have an abundance of tight ends, and four - Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore, Darren Waller and Maxx Williams – come at bargain prices because they're still playing on their rookie contracts. Can Baltimore carry two more expensive veterans? "Pitta carries a $7.7 million salary-cap number for next year, so he might be asked to take a pay cut in order to stay," wrote Zrebiec. "Watson is 36 years old and coming off Achilles surgery, factors that make his status tenuous."
Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta told my colleague, Ryan Mink, at the Senior Bowl that the Ravens must try to retain Williams because he's an "A" player and can do "everything" they need. Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen joked he might literally shed tearsif Williams walks away via free agency. Zrebiec is curious to see if the Ravens will pay as much as, or more than, the reported $46.25 million for five years that the New York Giants gave defensive tackle Damon Harrison last offseason.
6) Cornerback: Will the Ravens finally find a good complement to Jimmy Smith?
The Ravens haven't drafted a cornerback in the first three rounds since they selected Smith with the 27th-overall pick in 2011. DeCosta said he won't be pigeon-holed into taking a corner early, but he'd like to break that trend. Based on the depth at the position in this year's rookie class, combined with the Ravens' draft position, DeCosta feels the team is in a good spot to take one, and maybe even two corners early, if the board falls the right way.
*7) Outside linebacker: What will the Ravens do to address their pass rush?
*DeCosta said it's still too early to know whether young pass rushers Matthew Judon and Za'Darius Smith can be the guys to eventually replace veterans Elvis Dumervil (33) and Terrell Suggs (34). Even if those youngsters do pan out, DeCosta said the Ravens "can never have enough" pass rushers and they won't pass up getting a thoroughbred pass rusher if the opportunity presents itself. Added Zrebiec, "The Ravens badly need pass-rush reinforcements, either via the draft, free agency or both. The draft is loaded with edge rushers and the Ravens are expected to pick one relatively early."
Ravens Fill Remaining Coaching Vacancies With Internal Promotions
Harbaugh will fill his quarterback and secondary coaching vacancies with internal promotions, according to Zrebiec.
Per his report, the quarterback coaching duties will be shared by both Craig Ver Steeg, who will be an offensive assistant, and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg.
"Ver Steeg took on a greater role working with Joe Flacco and Ryan Mallett this past season, when offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was let go and Mornhinweg became the offensive coordinator," wrote Zrebiec. "Ver Steeg has a strong relationship with Flacco."
As for the secondary coach position, which was vacant after Leslie Frazier left to be the defensive coordinator in Buffalo, that will be filled by Chris Hewitt, but he will keep his same title of defensive backs coach. Hewitt has been on the coaching staff for five seasons.
"He had the title of defensive backs coach for the past two seasons, but he worked under secondary coach Leslie Frazier in 2016," wrote Zrebiec.
Other promotions include Mike Macdonald from defensive assistant to assistant defensive backs coach, and Drew Wilkins from defensive assistant to assistant defensive line coach.
Weddle Shaved His Beard For His Wife's Birthday
Everyone seems to hate it when Ravens safety Eric Weddle shaves his beard.
Well, almost everyone.
His wife isn't a fan of the ever-growing beard, and I can't say I blame her. He has said that all sorts of things get caught in it – maybe even bugs – and she doesn't like to kiss him as a result.
"My wife's birthday is coming up, and she hates the beard," Weddle told ESPN's James Walker at the Pro Bowl. "So I gave her an early birthday present. I will most likely bring it back for the season."
Shaving the beard shortly before signing with the Ravens last season made him more comfortable about shaving it again. He saw how quickly it grew back, and it was even fuller.
While his wife is happy, his Pro Bowl teammates are not.
"Half the guys didn't even recognize me when I got here," Weddle said. "They are like, 'Who are you? What are you doing?' I'm like, 'Yo, it's EW.'
"It's funny that's how I'm known nowadays. It's a good change. I'm less recognizable now."
Pro Bowl Skills Challenge 'Should Exist Forever'
Count me among the fans of the Pro Bowl skills challenge.
I can't help but smile as I watch some of the league's best players participate in silly challenges, including the "drone drop" and dodgeball game.
The only thing that would've made it better is if the league invited one of the Ravens' five Pro Bowlers in Orlando to participate. Still, I'm with NFL Dan Hanzus, who says the games "should exist forever." That might be an overstatement, but I think it at least warranted a continuation into 2018.
"They did it. The Pro Bowl Skills Challenge is great. Like, really great! I am now the Pro Bowl's No. 1 proponent solely because I understand that, without it, the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown cannot subsist," Hanzus wrote. "I write this, not as a company shill, but as someone who was legitimately shocked by how much joy I took out of watching the event. It was kind of sad, actually, but I'll just go 'head and push that deep down inside."
Here were two of my favorite highlights:
WR Cooper Kupp Making Name For Himself At Senior Bowl
There are plenty of players making a good impression on scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
The list includes Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White and Temple linebacker Hasaan Reddick.
But one of the more surprising names that I've seen get a massive amount of buzz is Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
"I like this kid," wrote NFL Network's draft guru Mike Mayock. "He had 22 catches, including six touchdowns, against two Pac-12 teams in his college career at EWU. He can play at any level; don't let the small school fool you. What I saw on tape is what I saw Tuesday. He's fast. He won deep, he won shallow, he beat press coverage. He can win at all three levels. And he gets it. I think he's going to play and play well very early in his NFL career."
Mink will highlight Kupp later today in his breakdown of Senior Bowl wide receivers, and NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks told Mink that Kupp could be a potential replacement for Steve Smith Sr.