WR Competition Will Be Tight As OTAs Begin
Wednesday marks the beginning of what is sure to be a long and grueling battle at the wide receiver position as the Ravens kick off Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
The team currently has 11 receivers, but only six "figure to make" the final 52-man roster, says The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
"Nobody is suggesting that jobs will be won or lost over the next couple of weeks, but early impressions can go a long way, especially in a wide receiver competition that is expected to be tight," Zrebiec wrote.
Of the 11, there are five that already appear to be locks to make the team, as long as they remain healthy:
Steve Smith Sr.
Despite potentially taking fewer snaps this season, Smith enters OTAs with the No. 1 receiver title and will likely hold onto it until another steps up and proves they can hold the mantle. He will be counted on as veteran leader in a now very young group.
While his spot is all but assured, CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown listed Marlon as one of five players that need to step up in OTAs. "He led the Ravens in touchdowns as a rookie in 2013, but did not score last season. The Ravens hope Brown is ready to reassert himself," the CSN reporter wrote.
Kamar AikenAiken was a surprise standout during training camp last year and he never took his foot off the accelerator after finally getting the opportunity to prove what he can do with his fourth NFL team. Despite starting the season behind Smith Sr., Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, Aiken made the most of his chances, finishing the season with 24 catches, 267 yards and three touchdowns.
Struggling with injuries his rookie season, Campanaro is another reciever that landed on Clifton Brown's list of players who need to step up. "The Ravens like his potential as a slot receiver with ability to get open. But he'll have to prove he can stay healthy," Brown wrote.
*Breshad Perriman *All eyes will be on the Ravens' first-rounder, especially his much-criticized hands. Word out of rookie camp is that Perriman caught all but one ball thrown his way. He simply needs to keep that up, and continue to develop and work on his chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco.
While the five are locks, it will be interesting to see where they land on the season-opening depth chart. Will Perriman be ready by Week 1? If not, who will get the No. 2 receiver role?
Meanwhile, that leaves one spot – maybe two depending what happens at other positions and on special teams – for the other six receivers.
Darren Waller (2015 sixth-round pick)
Jeremy Butler (2014 rookie free agent)
Aldrick Robinson (2011 sixth-round draft pick by Redskins)
Daniel Brown (2015 rookie free agent)
DeAndre Carter (2015 rookie free agent)
Cam Worthy (2015 rookie free agent)
For me, it would be hard not see the Ravens holding onto 6-foot-6 Waller. They rarely give up on draft picks months after selecting them, and he left a solid first impression at rookie camp. But they could also put him on the practice squad, so special teams contributions will go a long way for the other five vying for a spot.
How Pitta Affects Roster Decisions
A fan asked ESPN's Jamison Hensley how the potential return of Dennis Pitta could affect the tight end group. Having him back would be an obvious boost; I'm already envisioning him and Maxx Williams lining up together in two-tight end sets.
And in terms of roster spots, his return wouldn't affect the tight end group at all, says Hensley.
"The reason I say this is the uncertainty surrounding Pitta. Even if he returns, there are no guarantees on how long he'll last," he wrote. "Pitta has only played seven games the past two seasons. If Pitta can play a full season, Maxx Williams can serve as an understudy like Todd Heap did in 2001 with Shannon Sharpe.
"But Crockett Gillmore and Nick Boyle will remain because they provide depth at tight end and on special teams. The Ravens are going to keep Williams, Gillmore and Boyle regardless of what happens with Pitta."
Having said that, four tight ends on the roster is more than usual for the Ravens, and it will affect other positions. It could mean one less spot for an extra offensive lineman, defensive back or elsewhere.
Ravens Have Rob Gronkowski Prototype
If Pitta doesn't return, it sure is helpful that the Ravens drafted a tight end in the second round that CBSSports.com is calling a Patriots' Rob Gronkowski prototype.
That's some extremely high praise for Williams, given Gronkowski's dominating presence in the NFL over the last five years. He's a "touchdown-scoring machine" and has a freakish combination of athleticism and size (at 6-foot-7, 270 pounds).
"Don't formulate your concrete opinion on Maxx Williams right away – as he only turned 21 in April," wrote CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso. "Though not nearly as large and intimidating as Gronkowski (Who is?), Williams has a loaded tight end repertoire.
"He has viable seam-stretching speed, plus body control to make sideline catches and demonstrated a willingness as a blocker in Minnesota's power scheme. With some added strength, there's no telling how complete a tight end Williams could become."
Ravens Won't Bat An Eye When Key Veterans Don't Attend OTAs
Don't expect some of the Ravens' key veterans to be in attendance at the start of OTAs Wednesday. And don't expect the Ravens to sound the alarms.
While Flacco will likely be there to continue learn Marc Trestman's offense and develop chemistry with his young receivers, some older players like Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs and Chris Canty historically have chosen to work out on their own.
"[N]obody at the Ravens complex bats an eye [when they are absent]," wrote Zrebiec. "In a perfect world, Harbaugh and his staff would love to have all of the healthy players on his 90-man roster participating, especially the offensive players who are still getting to know Trestman. But OTAs are "voluntary" and Harbaugh understands that some of his established veterans will opt to remain at home and work out on their own before the mandatory minicamp.
"The Ravens don't spend too much time worrying about what players aren't there. In some cases, an established player not being present helps younger players get more repetitions. Arthur Brown certainly needs to be taking snaps at inside linebacker much more than Daryl Smith does at this time of year. And of course, there's always concern of injuries during the OTAs."
It Will Cost Ravens To Keep Yanda
The Ravens are on record saying they want to extend Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda's contract before he heads into the final year of his contract this season.
However, an extension hasn't been announced yet, and Zrebiec says it will cost the team to keep him.
"[F]inding compromise on such a deal may be difficult," The Sun reporter wrote. "Yanda will turn 31 years old in September, so he'll obviously be looking at this as his last contract. For those who think his age should lower his price tag and want to point out that the Ravens don't pay for the past, Yanda remains at the top of his game, viewed around the league as one of the best guards in football."
It's possible that Yanda's agent would like to get his client money in line with two guards who were paid this offseason in the Cardinals' Mike Iupati (five years, $40 million) and Chargers' Orlando Franklin (five years, $36.5 million).
Yanda has never said he wants to be the highest-paid guard in the league, but if he does, a deal would need to eclipse the Bucs' Logan Mankins at six years and $51 million.
- An interesting idea on the defensive line: "Carl Davis, the Ravens' third-round pick, is a wild card on the defensive line," wrote Hensley. "He has the length, agility and strength to play any three spots up front. Scouts differ on what Davis' best spot will be. I've heard rumblings that the Ravens will put Davis at defensive end (five technique), so it's possible that you will see Davis, Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan on the field at the same time. That could be Baltimore's future starting defensive line." [ESPN]
- How many more years will Ray Rice count against the Ravens salary cap? "This is the last year that Ray Rice remains on the books for the Ravens. Rice counts $9.5 million against the Ravens' cap," Hensley explained. "In fact, he has the second-largest cap number for Baltimore (behind quarterback Joe Flacco's $14.55 million cap figure) and he isn't on the team. In case there is any confusion, the Ravens aren't paying Rice this season. This dead money is the remaining pro-rated portion of all of the bonuses that were already paid to him. The reason why Rice's cap hit was spread over 2014 and 2015 was the timing of his release. If the Ravens had cut him prior to June 1, his entire cap hit would have been absorbed last season. Because it came in September, the dead money was split into two seasons." [ESPN]
- Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been lucky to be around some of the best leaders in the game, including Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. But of all the players he's coached, Del Rio says Ravens future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis was the best leader of them all. "They're all incredibly passionate. They're all very driven, hard-working guys. (And) they're all going to be in the Hall of Fame soon. (But) In my mind, Ray was the best. When Ray spoke in team meetings you could hear a pin drop. If there was ever a moment where our team was lagging, not playing hard, not competing hard … just maybe lacking a little fire … all you had to do was just mention it to Ray, and he would grab ahold of the whole team and just ignite that team." [Talk of Fame]
- There was lots of response to last Friday's Late For Work, which highlighted ESPN's Uni Watch rankings. They listed the Ravens as one of the worst-dressed teams (we'll agree to disagree). One response I received on Twitter had a new design idea for the Ravens' look, and I think it's always fun to see what designers come up with. So here's one from Keoni Tamiano Block: