Predicting Ravens 2015 Starting Offense
The first real game of the 2015 season is still nearly three months away.
But the Ravens depth chart is already starting to take shape based on performances during the last several weeks of the offseason program. The Ravens return nine offensive starters from last year's team, but there are still some intriguing competitions on that side of the ball.
The most notable is at wide receiver, where the Ravens have a group of players fighting for the starting job that opened alongside Steve Smith Sr. when Torrey Smith departed for San Francisco. Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Butler and Breshad Perriman have all shown their bright spots during practice.
The prediction from Russell Street Report is that the first-round pick will win the job.
"I believe Breshad Perriman has the talent to develop into Joe Flacco's No. 1 receiving option," wrote Russell Street Report's Ron Benamor. "At 6'2, 212 pounds, the rookie has the ideal size, strength, and speed combo to become a better version of Torrey Smith."
The other spot up for grabs is tight end.
Dennis Pitta has yet to get medical clearance and last year's starter Owen Daniels signed with Denver. Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams are the top candidates if Pitta is unable to play, and Russell Street Report predicted Williams and Gillmore will share the starting role. (C'mon guys, talk about a cop-out!)
"I believe a committee will shoulder the load at the tight end position, with playing time ultimately predicated on the offensive situation at hand," Benamor wrote. "Both Williams and Gillmore will make their bread in the red-zone, while another rookie, [Nick] Boyle, will make his presence felt as a blocker."
Here's what the entire starting offense would look like in 2015 if these predictions are on the money:
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
Running back: Justin Forsett
Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk
Wide Receiver: Steve Smith Sr.
Wide Receiver: Breshad Perriman
Tight End: Maxx Williams/Crockett Gillmore
Right Tackle: Rick Wagner
Right Guard: Marshal Yanda
Center: Jeremy Zuttah
Left Guard: Kelechi Osemele
Left Tackle: Eugene Monroe
Harbaugh Climbs NFL Coach Rankings
Something doesn't seem right lately.
The Ravens are used to getting overlooked and embracing the underdog mentality, but recently the national media has heaped praise on the purple and black. Now Sporting News is getting in on the action, as NFL columnist David Steele showed high regard for John Harbaugh in his ranking of all 32 NFL head coaches.
Harbaugh came in at No. 3 on his list.
"The Ravens were so close to reaching a second Super Bowl in three years... And they did it with a flawed, injury-riddled team that played under the cloud of the Ray Rice mess," Steele wrote. "Harbaugh pushed all the right buttons."
The only two coaches ahead of Harbaugh were New England's Bill Belichick and Seattle's Pete Carroll. Belichick guided the Patriots to their fourth Lombardi Trophy in his tenure, and the Seahawks have played in back-to-back Super Bowls.
Harbaugh is ahead of fellow Super Bowl champions like Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, New Orleans' Sean Payton, Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and New York's Tom Coughlan.
Harbaugh's teams have a history of playing their best football at the end of the season, and the Ravens have made the playoffs in six of his first seven seasons. Baltimore has also won at least one game in each of those postseason trips.
"Crazy Harbaugh stat: in seven seasons, he has as many postseason wins (10) as Bill Walsh," Steele wrote.
Could Webb Really Return Punts?
Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb made it clear Wednesday that he wants to be the Ravens starting punt returner. The seventh-year cornerback was a stellar returner earlier in his career, and he has his eyes set on filling the hole left by the released Jacoby Jones.
"Although Webb] isn't running for office, [he campaigned as smoothly as any politician Wednesday while discussing his ambition to win the Ravens' vacant punt returner job," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson.
The question is whether the Ravens would let him.
"Here's a potential problem," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown. "Webb and Jimmy Smith are the Ravens' starting cornerbacks, and Webb's value as a corner may make the coaching staff reluctant to use him regularly as a returner."
Webb has big-play ability in the return game, but he's also critical to a secondary that was riddled with injuries last year. Webb has dealt with injuries throughout his career, including two ACL tears and a lingering back injury that hindered him most of last season.
"That decision will ultimately come down to whether coach John Harbaugh will allow one of his starting corners to risk an injury returning kicks," wrote ESPN's Todd Karpovich.
In addition to giving Webb reps at punt returner, the Ravens are also getting a good luck at cornerback Asa Jackson, and wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and DeAndre Carter as options. Second-year receiver Michael Campanaro will also get back into the mix during training camp when he returns from a quad injury.
"Smith is regarded as unlikely to be used on special teams because of his value to the offense," Wilson wrote. "Campanaro is regarded as a leading candidate for the role."
Another possibility is to use a rotation of players based on the situation. The Ravens used Webb as a spot returner last year, mostly to fair catch punts deep in their own territory.
"It would not be surprising to see Webb returning punts in certain situations," Brown wrote. "At least his eagerness to do it gives the Ravens a viable option, if they want to take that risk."
No Deal Imminent For Osemele
The Ravens have perhaps the best guard tandem in the NFL with perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda along with up-and-coming left guard Kelechi Osemele. The pair was a big reason the Ravens offensive line graded as one of the NFL's best last year.
Yanda was the top-rated guard by Pro Football Focus, and Osemele was close behind at No. 6.
Now both players are heading into the final year of their contracts, and Wilson writes that Osemele is unlikely to get an extension before the season.
"With no deal imminent for Osemele or Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, according to sources, and Yanda regarded as more likely to land an expensive deal from the Ravens, Osemele could emerge as one of the top commodities in free agency next year," Wilson wrote.
Osemele was asked about his contract situation after practice, but gave no indication about where potential negotiations stand.
"I'll let my agent handle the contract, and I'll just focus on my part," he said.
Check out this well-done video from the Baltimore City Public Schools from when the Ravens visited local schools this spring following violent protests in the city.