Calm From Ravens Suggests Confidence From Inside Organization
Before we jump into the football talk, let's start off today's Late For Work with a thank you to the men and women of our military on this Memorial Day. As Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week, this could very well be the most important holiday on the calendar.
Now to football…
There was some budding excitement at the Under Armour Performance Center last week as the Ravens came together for the first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). The revamped secondary drew strong reviews and third-year receiver Breshad Perriman had everyone talking about his hot start.
The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck noticed an air of confidence projected from those inside the Castle.
"By all accounts, when the Ravens went through their first full-squad organized team activities this past week, the mood could not have been more upbeat," he wrote. "Apparently, no one has informed them that the rest of the pro football world doesn't think they're going to be very good."
Schmuck ran through some of the recent power rankings released by NFL reporters, and pointed out that CBS and The MMQB both had the Ravens in the bottom half of the league.
But the Ravens have never been too concerned with outside projections, and Schmuck certainly got that sense last week.
"When [General Manager] Newsome was sitting on the rise above the practice field at the Under Armour Performance Center to watch the Ravens begin installing next season's schemes and assimilating the new players he acquired through free agency and in the draft, it's a pretty good bet he wasn't focused on the remaining holes in the roster," Schmuck wrote. "He was doing what he always does at this time of year — dwelling more on what he has than what he doesn't."
Schmuck looked at the wide receiver position, which has been discussed endlessly in Baltimore over the last few months. The Ravens are still in the market for a free-agent acquisition, but Newsome hasn't rushed to sign veterans such as Victor Cruz just for the sake of crossing that item off the to-do list.
"Newsome has said all along that he intends to add another veteran receiver and he probably will at some point in the next couple of months," Schmuck wrote. "He just isn't going to abandon a time-tested team-building philosophy that has held the organization in such good stead for most of his tenure."
The focus for the Ravens right now is to get a good look at the team during offseason practices. Rather than filling the roster with veterans who have questions of their own, the Ravens are giving young players like Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Ryan Jensen and Kamalei Correa a chance to show what they can do.
Newsome still has free agency as an option, but he has shown he won't rush to that conclusion.
"Harbaugh expressed a lot of confidence in the group of players that came together last week for the start of OTAs and Newsome has seemed content with the familiar direction this offseason has taken," Schmuck wrote. "Maybe they're fooling themselves and overrating their talent … or maybe they know a lot more about their team than the pundits who are poking holes in it."
Will Humphrey Or Carr Start Week 1?
The Ravens solidified the cornerback position when they signed Brandon Carr in March. They made it even stronger when they drafted Marlon Humphrey in the first round in April.
Now one of the more intriguing position battles will take place opposite of top corner Jimmy Smith.
Baltimore Beatdown examined the cornerback competition and predicted that the veteran will ultimately win the starting job.
"Typically, with the occasional exception for quarterbacks, teams draft a player in the first round because they will be an immediate starter. But in 2017, I don't believe that the Ravens first-round pick will be the Week One starter," wrote Matthew Cohen. "Instead, Brandon Carr will be the Week One starter across from Jimmy Smith."
Carr, 31, has never missed a start in his 10-year career, and he took first-team reps during last week's OTAs. The Ravens signed him this offseason in large part because of his consistency and durability.
"Over the course of his career, not only has Carr been reliable to stay on the field, but he also has been reliable in his ability to stop wide receivers," Cohen wrote. "In six of his nine NFL seasons, Carr has received a Pro Football Focus grade of over 73. In three different seasons, Carr had a grade of over 80."
Carr has the experience, but the Ravens obviously have high hopes for the first-round pick out of Alabama. He's a track star with great press coverage skills, and the Ravens certainly envision him moving into the starting lineup at some point.
But with Carr on the roster, Cohen says there is no rush with Humphrey.
"This is why the signing of Carr is perfect, it gives Humphrey the chance to improve and become the lockdown corner that he has the potential to be, all without being immediately thrown into the fire," he wrote. "Even if Humphrey doesn't start a single game this season, the Ravens will still be excellent on defense, because Carr is no scrub. And, better yet, if anyone in the secondary is to get hurt, then Humphrey provides incredible depth."
Several Players Could Fill Kyle Juszczyk's Role
Fullbacks may be considered a dying breed in the NFL, but they have been far from extinct in Baltimore.
Kyle Juszczyk played a prominent role in Baltimore's offense over the last three years, and he earned his first career Pro Bowl selection last season. The Swiss-Army knife of a player departed for San Francisco this offseason with a reported $21 million contract, leaving the Ravens in search of his replacement.
The Ravens didn't draft a fullback or sign a veteran in free agency, and The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec expects them to use a few players to fill the void.
"The Ravens are still likely to use a lead blocker in the backfield on occasion, but that player will have other roles as well," Zrebiec wrote. "At Thursday's OTA, the team had both Lorenzo Taliaferro and Ricky Ortiz working on blocking drills."
Taliaferro, who has been a running back throughout his NFL career, is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Ortiz was signed as an undrafted rookie out of Oregon State, and he was also a similar jack-of-all-trades to Juszczyk during his college career.
Head Coach Harbaugh suggested the Ravens won't necessarily go the traditional route to find a fullback.
"Whether you call a guy a fullback, whether you call him a tight end, whether you call him a wide receiver getting in there and doing some things, if we have a fullback that is one of the best 53 that plays the fullback in terms of the roster spot, we will do it that way," Harbaugh said Thursday.
Zrebiec also pointed to tight end Nick Boyle as an option. He's a big, physical player who could certainly hold his own as a blocker.
"Last year, about a third of the teams in the NFL didn't even have a fullback on their roster. Only nine teams had a fullback on the field for more than 20 percent of their offensive plays," Zrebiec wrote. "With Juszczyk gone, the Ravens could join that list. It won't mean that they won't use a fullback. It just means that their fullback might be a tailback, a tight end or a wide receiver."