Jimmy Smith's Time To Show Something
Jimmy Smith ended the 2012 season with two critical plays in the Ravens' final defensive stand to seal Super Bowl XLVII.
The two pass breakups on wide receiver Michael Crabtree capped a challenging season for Smith, who battled injuries for the second year in a row. In his first two NFL seasons, the injuries have forced the 2011 first-round pick off the field and limited his production, and ESPN AFC North Blogger Jamison Hensley now thinks it's time for Smith to make a big leap this offseason.
"Most Ravens first-round picks start as rookies," Hensley wrote. "Smith hasn't established himself yet, and he's entering his third season."
Smith started just two games last year, and hardly played in the second half of the season because of a sports hernia operation. He has shown potential when he's been on the field – like the Super Bowl – but hasn't been able to string together those moments for sustained success.
"He came up big in the biggest of situations and made an intelligent calculation of just how physical he could be at that point in the game and at that spot on the field," wrote CSNBaltimore's Ray Frager, referencing the Super Bowl. "That play points to Smith's potential. However, Smith has yet to establish himself in the Ravens secondary."
The sports hernia injury kept Smith out of four games last year and limited him to primarily just special teams even when he was able to play. Smith played just 12 defensive snaps in Weeks 10-16. In his rookie season, an ankle injury on the season's opening kickoff forced Smith to miss the next four games.
"Smith has the size and speed to be a top-tier cornerback," Hensley said. "He just hasn't shown the toughness or consistency to warrant a place on the field."
Smith has made it clear that his goal this year is to stay healthy and to make an impact on the defense, and Hensley says that's exactly what the Ravens need.
"Lardarius Webb is coming off a season-ending knee injury and Cary Williams went to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency," Hensley wrote. "Smith could put himself in position to take over the starting job from Corey Graham."
Offensive Line A Crowded Spot
The Ravens offensive line was a big question mark at the start of the offseason.
They lost one starter when center Matt Birk retired, and then left tackle Bryant McKinnie flirted with other teams in free agency.
But last week the Ravens brought back McKinnie and traded for veteran center A.Q. Shipley, and now the offensive line is a very crowded position on the 90-man roster. The Ravens currently have 17 offensive linemen.
"Ravens coach John Harbaugh talks all the time about how much he loves competition," wrote Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun. "With 17 guys potentially bidding for eight or nine spots, the offensive line competition will definitely be worth monitoring."
The Ravens carried eight linemen on their final roster last season, and they will likely be right around that mark again this year, Zrebiec said.
"As of now, their current top eight appears to be (in no particular order): [Marshal] Yanda, [Michael] Oher, [Kelechi] Osemele, McKinnie, [Gino] Gradkowski, Shipley, [Ramon] Harewood and [Jah] Reid," Zrebiec wrote.
Rookie draft picks Rick Wagner (fifth round) and Ryan Jensen (sixth round) currently seem to be behind the veterans on Zrebiec's depth chart, but there is still plenty of time between now and training camp. The rookies and veterans have yet to even get on the field together.
Plus, General Manager Ozzie Newsome is known for not cutting draft picks.
"Wagner and Jensen will obviously figure into the mix as the Ravens give their draft picks every opportunity to make the squad," Zrebiec wrote.
The starters will likely be McKinnie, Oher, Yanda, Osemele and either Gradkowski or Shipley, and then the key factor with the those last few line spots will likely come down to who can do the most.
"The competition for the other three or four offensive line spots may come down to position flexibility and versatility," Zrebiec said.
"It's easy to look at the 17-man group …* *and conclude that several offensive linemen with some upside are going to have a real hard time making the Ravens."
Where Does Ravens Line Rank In Division?
While the Ravens have plenty of competition on the line, where does the unit rank compared to other teams in the AFC North?
Hensley continued his position-by-position breakdown for all teams in the division, and he had the Ravens listed as the No. 3 line behind the Browns and Bengals, respectively.
"The top guard tandem of the division is Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele," Hensley wrote. "Yanda is among the grittiest linemen in the league, and Osemele ranks among the most versatile."
Hensley praised the move to bring back the veteran McKinnie, who started all four postseason games during the Super Bowl run. He showed during that stretch that he can still play at a high level, and he recently said he's motivated to play at a dominant level to finish his career.
"It was a smart move to re-sign left tackle Bryant McKinnie because it allows Michael Oher to stay on the right side," Hensley wrote. "Still, there is uncertainty whether McKinnie can hold up for a 16-game schedule and whether Gino Gradkowski can adequately replace Matt Birk at center."
Rice Hopes To Become Bigger Receiving Threat
Ray Rice has been one of Joe Flacco's most reliable targets since the two entered the league together in 2008.
No player has caught more passes from Flacco than Rice (311), and the only Raven with more receptions than him last year was recently-departed Anquan Boldin with 65. Rice and tight end Dennis Pitta both had 61.
But Rice would still like to see his role as a receiving target in the offense continue to blossom.
"Now that guys know that I'm a threat out of the backfield, I got to use my hands a little more," Rice told reporters at his annual Ray Rice Day at Calvert Hall. "I get pushed a lot coming out of the backfield, and that's a sign of respect, but if I can get my hands and get out on pass routes [then that will help] Joe Flacco."
@Ravens: "Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there in #RavensNation!" [Twitter] * @TorreySmithWR: "Mother's Day Dinner with my moms." [Instagram] http://instagram.com/p/ZOmgzxk-ct/ * @KOsevenduece [Tackle Kelechi Osemele]: "Happy Mother's Day to my mom and my beautiful sis @Chiemeri "[Twitter] * @BryantMcKinnie: "Happy Mother's Day to the two most amazing Women in my life, my Mom & Grandmom" [Instagram] * @EdDickson84: "Happy Mother's Day to all the Mother's! Special shout out to the single mothers, I feel ya struggle. #keepyaheadup" [Twitter] * @334Upshaw41: Nice lil cardio playing football and shooting hoops with the kids [Twitter] * Former Raven Matt Birk throws out the first pitch at the Orioles-Twins game in Minnesota [The Baltimore Sun] * Rice envisions different roles for fullbacks Vonta Leach and Kyle Juszyzyk. [The Baltimore Sun]