One-Third Of Ravens' Starting Jobs Up For Grabs
Ravens Organized Team Activities (OTAs) officially kicked off Tuesday, which means the battle for eight starting jobs is already underway. Five of those are on offense.
With eight jobs up for grabs, it means about one-third of the Ravens' 2016 starters have yet to be determined. That's certainly not a bad thing as front office executives and the coaching staff have injected new blood after finishing last season with a 5-11 record.
WNST’s Luke Jones and ESPN’s Jamison Hensley present the overall landscape for the open competitions and the candidates vying for the nod.
*1. Wide receiver: Mike Wallace vs. Kamar Aiken vs. Breshad Perriman *Hensley: "One of the bigger storylines will be who's going to start opposite Steve Smith Sr. It will be an interesting competition between Mike Wallace, who received $4.5 million guaranteed from Baltimore in free agency; Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick from a year ago; and Kamar Aiken, who led the Ravens with 75 receptions last season."
*2. Running back: Justin Forsett vs. Buck Allen vs. Kenneth Dixon vs. Terrance West vs. Lorenzo Taliaferro vs. Trent Richardson *Jones: "The veteran Forsett is the early favorite to start, but the size of this list reflects how wide open this competition could be. There is plenty of depth, but the question will be whether there is enough high-impact talent to make the running game thrive and not just a collection of No. 2 and No. 3 backs."
*3. Tight end: Benjamin Watson vs. Crockett Gillmore vs. Maxx Williams vs. Dennis Pitta *Jones: "All eyes will be on Pitta — with fingers crossed — as he is serious about returning to action, but it's impossible to know what kind of player he can be after two serious hip injuries. Is the veteran newcomer Watson the favorite to start after a career year in New Orleans or will Gillmore build on his encouraging 2015? The 2015 second-rounder Williams could also be ready to take a big step forward."
*4. Left tackle: Eugene Monroe vs. Ronnie Stanley *Jones: "With Monroe continuing his crusade for medical marijuana in Las Vegas this week, the rookie first-round pick Stanley should receive extensive opportunities at left tackle. If he proves to be more than ready to handle the job, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh can feel better about the possibility of letting the oft-injured Monroe go and saving $6.5 million in salary."
*5. Left guard: Stanley vs. John Urschel vs. Ryan Jensen vs. Vladimir Ducasse vs. Alex Lewis *Jones: "This spot is directly tied to left tackle as Stanley would appear to be the slam-dunk choice to start should the Ravens keep Monroe for 2016. If Stanley plays tackle, the other four will compete for Kelechi Osemele's old spot with Ducasse holding the experience edge with 22 career NFL starts, but both Urschel and Jensen have fared well at guard when given the chance to play there in the past."
*6. Defensive end: Lawrence Guy vs. Bronson Kaufusi *Hensley: "To replace Chris Canty, the Ravens can either go with last year's fill-in Lawrence Guy or a high draft pick in third-rounder Bronson Kaufusi. Guy is one of Baltimore's more underrated players and proved he can more than hold his own in six starts last season. Kaufusi is considered a project by some, but he is more of the prototypical 3-4 defensive end at 6-feet-6, 285 pounds."
*7. Inside linebacker: Zachary Orr vs. Arthur Brown vs. Albert McClellan *Hensley: "Baltimore could still add a veteran later this offseason, but it looks like the Ravens want to see what the younger linebackers can do next to C.J. Mosley. Zachary Orr got increased reps toward the end of last season, which should give him the early edge over Arthur Brown and Albert McClellan."
*8. Cornerback: Shareece Wright vs. Jerraud Powers *Hensley: "Shareece Wright started the last five games for the Ravens last season and was re-signed to a three-year, $13 million deal ($4.76 million guaranteed). He has also become a favorite of the coaching staff with his commitment to detail. All of this should put him at the top of the depth chart next to Jimmy Smith to begin offseason workouts. But Baltimore signed Jerraud Powers, a seven-year starter, to a one-year, $1.75 million contract this month. Powers' ball skills should give him a chance to beat out Wright. Needless to say, Smith, Wright and Powers will see plenty of playing time, because they will be part of Baltimore's nickel defense."
Putting OTA Attendance In Perspective: It's More Important For Some Than Others
The doors to the Ravens' practice fields will open to the media Thursday, which means you better get ready for your Twitter feeds to be inundated with player attendance reports.
There's no way around it – it's going to be the talk of the town.
But before it does, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec wants to get ahead of the buzz by putting the voluntary attendance in perspective.
There are two things to remember. First, "voluntary" takes on a different meaning throughout the league, but in Baltimore, established veterans understand and act upon the true meaning of the word.
"With the Ravens, there's long been a policy of focusing on the players who do attend the OTAs and not the ones who don't," wrote Zrebiec. "That's not to say John Harbaugh wouldn't prefer all 90 of his players to be on the field this week. That would be ideal. But Harbaugh knows that's not going to happen, and he trusts that those who aren't there are preparing adequately and will be ready for the mandatory minicamp from June 14 to 16."
The second point to remember is that the OTAs are much more important for some players than they are for others. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed* *and Haloti Ngata, for example, were never really regulars at the voluntary session, especially once they were established veterans. Marshal Yanda and Terrell Suggs are more recent examples.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even if he were healthy enough to do so, do you really want Suggs taking valuable snaps in May from younger or newer players learning the schemes? The Ravens have Za'Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon, and they need as many reps as they can get. Do you want Steve Smith Sr. running sprints and wearing down those 36-year-old legs in June? Do you want to risk injury to Yanda over the summer when you know he is going to be ready in September?
"In certain cases, the angst is understandable," wrote Zrebiec. "It would be suspect for a young and unproven player to blow off OTAs if they're going to be in competition for a roster spot. You'd also like to see certain veterans who are coming off injuries make an appearance, if only to knock off some rust and show they are healthy."
We'll know more Thursday, but it looks like that is happening. Based on social media and a sneak peek of practice highlights (see video below), Justin Forsett was out there yesterday after breaking his arm last season, and Perriman was flying around and making sharp cuts on his rehabbed knee. Practice is full of young players battling for roles. And, the newly signed veterans were there too, including Eric Weddle, Wallace, Watson and Powers.
OK, now that we all have the perspective, we're going to take the Twitter reports in stride, right? RIGHT?
"Of course, I'll join other media members in furiously tweeting and blogging who isn't participating when Thursday's session is open to us," Zrebiec wrote. "That's what we do, even if we're well aware that OTA attendance isn't the be-all and end-all."
Is There Room On Roster For Dennis Pitta?
If you haven't read it by now, you need to check out my colleague Ryan Mink's in-depth story that details Pitta's decision to play football after suffering two severe hip injuries.
As long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks, he is primed to be on the field when the Ravens kick of their season against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11 … well, if he makes the team.
Russell Street Report's Brian Bower believes that's going to be a hard with Watson, Gillmore, Williams, Boyle (suspended for first 10 games) and Darren Waller on the roster.
"His road to recovery makes for a good story, and he clearly still has a strong desire to play the game," Bower wrote. "But the Ravens have more proven options and younger players with greater potential. They will all be safer options than Pitta, who hasn't played a down since the first month of the 2014 season. We all would love to see Pitta return as a Raven and play well, but there are simply too many risks.
"Pitta's journey should continue somewhere other than Baltimore, on another team without better options in both the short and long term."
Obviously Pitta has health risks, but I think it's too early to make the assessment that he should move on from Baltimore. If he makes it through training camp and is showing the same form he displayed during the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII run, I think you keep him.
At the end of the day, you want to give Joe Flacco weapons, and in Marc Trestman's tight-end friendly offense, I don't see why the Ravens can't keep four tight ends for the season-opener and figure out what to do with Boyle in Week 10. Waller is experimenting at tight end and hasn't proven he deserves a spot any more than Pitta.
Let it play out.
Next 5 Super Bowl Locations
Two semi-big announcements came out of the owners meetings in Charlotte, N.C. Tuesday.
First, the league approved an expanded replay system that added some "administrative" items that can be reviewed, and reorganized the other plays that can/can't be reviewed so they are clearer.
Second, the NFL announced the locations of the next five Super Bowls. This would be bigger news if one city was Baltimore, but that has never been a serious option.
Super Bowl LI (2017) - Houston
Super Bowl LII (2018) - Minnesota
Super Bowl LIII (2019) - Atlanta
Super Bowl LIV (2020) - South Florida
Super Bowl LV (2021) - Los Angeles