Late for Work 8/10: Pundits Agree on Most Important Training Camp Battle

081020-LFW
G Tyre Phillips; G Ben Powers; G D.J. Fluker

Consensus Among Most Important Training Camp Battle

A shortened offseason and no preseason games makestraining camp even more important in determining the Ravens' 53-man roster. 

Amongthe positional battles to watch, there's consensus among pundits about which is the most important. 

"You simply can't replace a Hall of Fame caliber player and expect similar results," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "That makes the battle for [Marshal Yanda's] vacant right guard job perhaps the most important one of training camp."

"The Ravens may not have lost many important players this offseason, but this offensive line is going to be very different without the now-retired Yanda," CBS Sports' Jordan Dajani wrote.

It's not difficult to see why Stevens and Dajani highlighted right guard as the most important position battle. Yanda was one of, if not, the best guard in the NFL. His retirement leaves a big hole to fill.

Right now, there isn't a clear-cut starter as training camp begins, but the Ravens have a mix of veteran and young talent competing for the job.

"Much like we saw last year at left guard, the Ravens are seemingly letting everyone compete for the starting job here," Stevens added.

Veteran D.J. Fluker, who signed a one-year deal with the Ravens, has been mentioned as one of the favorites. Baltimore also has second-year guard Ben Powers and rookies Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson are also in the mix.

"I think [Powers] has a legitimate chance," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "... Fluker might be the favorite, but [Powers] wouldn't be the first Ravens mid-round drafted offensive lineman to show himself as a starter in his second year or later."

While there isn't a consensus of who will start at right guard yet, they'll face lofty expectations.

"Whoever wins this battle will have a lot of eyes on them this season," Stevens wrote. "They'll be compared to Yanda and any difficulties on the right side of the offensive line will automatically be attributed to them. It's a tough spot to be put in, making this competition one worth watching from the very first practice all the way through to Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns."

Ravens Overcoming Receiver Doubts With a Young, Talented Corps

On paper, the Ravens have one of the NFL's most complete rosters, but wide receiver remains one of the biggest question marks.

"Analysts across different outlets aren't quite as bullish on the Ravens' pass catchers, however. [Willie] Snead remains in place as an established slot option, and [Marquise 'Hollywood'] Brown's renewed health after a promising rookie season have sparked optimism of a breakout campaign," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote.

"Outside of that, questions shroud the Ravens' receivers, a bunch that racked up the fewest yards in the NFL last year while playing within a run-first offense that led the league in scoring."

Receiver has been the Ravens' Achilles heel when it comes to roster construction, but they're tackling their biggest criticism with a young receiver corps, which has been bonding this offseason.

"Headed into the season, fans have never been more excited about the team's wide receiver room," Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote.

Gone are the days of relying heavily on veteran talent. The Ravens currently don't have a receiver on the roster over the age of 27.

In 2019, the Ravens used two top-100 selections on wide receivers (Brown and Miles Boykin) for the first time in franchise history. General Manager Eric DeCosta invested even more into the position this offseason by selecting Devin Duvernay in the third round and trading up for James Proche in the sixth round.

But as Kasinitz noted, there are still questions for the group.  

"Can [Miles] Boykin become a Year 2 threat after catching just 13 passes last season?" Kasinitz added. "Might Duvernay or Proche make a significant impact as rookies in an upended offseason? Does Baltimore's offense, as currently constructed, have enough playmakers surrounding MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson?

"Major strides from Boykin or a quick rise from Duvernay or Proche could clear things up. When the Ravens open full training camp practices on Aug. 17, those young pass-catchers can aim to validate the words of enthusiasm from their teammates and coaches. They'd just need to surprise critics in the process."

Report: Ravens Expected to Sign Kenjon Barner to Compete at Returner

Head Coach John Harbaugh said Friday that the punt returner job is Proche's to win, but he could have some competition in camp.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the Ravens are expected to sign veteran running back/returner Kenjon Barner.

Barner spent last season with the Atlanta Falcons, and had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in a Week 11 win against the Carolina Panthers. Barner also returned punts and kicks for the Philadelphia Eagles during their 2017 Super Bowl-winning season.

"Barner is typically listed as a running back, but the Ravens don't really have a need there and will most likely be using him primarily on special teams," ProFootballTalk's Michael David Smith wrote.

De'Anthony Thomas' opt out leaves Proche as the frontrunner, although Harbaugh said Snead and Brown have also been fielding punts.  

Warren Sharp: Ravens Are the Blueprint to Build a Team

When the Ravens drafted Jackson, they didn't try to fit a square peg in a round hole. They catered toward the strengths of their starting quarterback.

Last season, both sides reaped the benefits, and it's set the precedent for how teams should build around their talent.

Warren Sharp of SharpFootballAnalysis.com said on "The Ringer NFL Show" podcast that the Ravens are one of the blueprints on how to construct a winning team.

"Apart from some of the basic tenants of what you need to build into any offense, I think you really have to cater to the personnel that you have on your team," Sharp said. "... They were very aggressive with how they wanted to try to play the game of football in general, understanding that teams that have a lead at halftime typically win about 80 percent of their games. ... They changed everything to their strengths of their players, to Jackson specifically."

With an offensive coordinator who's had success with dual-threat quarterbacks, along with an aggressive, analytical approach, the Ravens finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record during the regular season.

Sharp specifically pointed to the Ravens' commitment to pre-snap motion and play-action passing as the biggest metrics to their success. They ranked in the top five of both categories last season.

"[I]t also isn't surprising to see the Ravens – the team with the best record, MVP favorite, and odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl – mentioned as leaders in most of these categories," Sharp added. "Hopefully, in this new decade teams will embrace the numbers and show improvement in these core analytics principles and more."

Sharp pointed to the Seattle Seahawks as one of the teams who could benefit the most from the Ravens' blueprint, but said it won't be easy for any team to duplicate because Jackson is a one-of-a-kind talent.

"When people watch Jackson they think that he's just kind of like this flash in the pan because of his athletic ability," ESPN's Damien Woody said. "They think that he's not 'cerebral.' And that's the term that kind of gets me frustrated. … People are doubting Jackson's cerebral aspect to his game. And I think the more he plays and the more experience he gets, he's going to continue to make people look stupid out here."

Patrick Queen Expected to Garner Training Camp Hype

Every offseason there are rookies who garner offseason hype, and Bleacher Report's Chris Roling predicted which first-year players will get all of the attention.

Among them is Ravens rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen. Queen was only one of two defensive players on Roling's list.

"Although most media coverage tends to focus on offensive players, Queen is one of the few rookie defenders who can put up massive highlights in camp while solidifying his role in the middle of an already great defense," Roling wrote. "It wouldn't be a shock to see clips of him keeping up with Jackson after navigating the field behind his elite defensive line."

Inside linebacker was one of the Ravens' biggest offseason needs and they addressed it with who many considered to be the top linebacker in the draft class. The pedigree of the position adds to the hype.

The Ravens have had success drafting first-round linebackers and hope Queen can add to the lineage.

NFL.com's Adam Schein also picked Queen as one of the rookies he's most excited to watch.

"This is the modern off-ball linebacker: A speed demon with a high football IQ and three-down ability," Schein wrote. "A sideline-to-sideline tackler, Queen is also very comfortable in pass coverage and creates havoc as an inside blitzer. LSU continues to churn out instant-impact linebackers. Queen will be a highlight-reel guy in Year 1."

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