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Late for Work 9/4: A Look At Remaining Questions Surrounding the Ravens

090418_LFW

A Look At Remaining Questions Surrounding the Ravens

Much of the media's focus on the Ravens the past few weeks was on the construction of the team's 53-man roster. With that, as well as the compiling of the Ravens' practice squad, in the rearview mirror, it's time to focus on the regular season.

Though the Ravens answered a lot of questions when they named their 53-man squad, a few still remain. Below are some questions that might not be answered before Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills.

What will be Lamar Jackson's role on gamedays?

The Ravens have made it clear they think the uber-athletic Jackson could be a serious weapon in 2018 – how the team utilizes him remains to be seen.

Media members have theorized a potential wildcat scenario involving Jackson taking snaps under center at varying points throughout games. Lining Jackson up at another position like running back or wide receiver has also been considered by pundits.

One theory that's gaining traction is using Jackson in the red zone. Jackson thrived in that part of the field during the preseason, and actually led the Ravens in rushing touchdowns.

"He might take the field on gadget plays or as a quarterback in the red zone, where his elusiveness as a ball-carrier could challenge defenses," PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz wrote.

An alternative possibility that has emerged in the wake of Baltimore's decision to keep quarterback Robert Griffin III is that the team doesn't even have Jackson active on gamedays. As The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer pointed out, "Griffin is plenty athletic, too," which would also allow the Ravens to get creative with their play-calling like they could with Jackson.

Baltimore could also name all three quarterbacks for gamedays, but as PressBox's Bo Smolka noted, "the Ravens could be shorting themselves at another position."

Ultimately, Shaffer sees Jackson being on the 46-man gameday roster as the likely outcome.

"There is a reason the Ravens had Jackson lining up at positions other than quarterback throughout the offseason, a tease of future razzle-dazzle with Flacco," Shaffer wrote.

What will the starting offensive line be?

This has been a persistent question throughout the summer.

Two positions along the line appear to be solidified – Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Marshal Yanda at right guard. Stanley has dealt with a minor knee injury during the final weeks of preseason, but has returned to practice. Yanda broke his ankle in Week 2 of the 2017 season and hasn't appeared in a game since, including the 2018 preseason contests. However, all reports indicate they'll both play against Buffalo.

Who between James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura and Orlando Brown Jr. occupies the final three starting spots remains to be seen.

The right tackle battle between Hurst and Brown has been among the most competitive throughout preseason. Many media members believe Brown, a rookie third-round pick, has the edge after a strong preseason that saw him earn the majority of snaps at right tackle during games. 

Though Brown has done well, Hurst brings a wealth of experience to the group, which the Ravens could prefer when deciding who starts. A few weeks ago, Head Coach John Harbaugh said Hurst would be the starter if the season started then.

The other two positions, left guard and center, also don't have confirmed starters. Shaffer noted that "Lewis is the most likely season-opening starter," at left guard, where he lined up during the Ravens preseason victory against the Dolphins, the last time the offensive line's first-stringers were on the field in a game. Lewis excelled in that contest, getting named to Pro Football Focus' Gordon McGuinness' Preseason Week 3 NFL Team of the Week.

Skura appears to be the favorite to win the center job after getting the majority of first-team snaps throughout the preseason, though Shaffer did point out that "Hurst shared some repetitions at center in training camp." Russell Street Report's Carey Stevenson believes "odds are against us seeing a 16-game starter there."

Who will get the majority of snaps next to C.J. Mosley at inside linebacker?

This question may not get fully answered on Sunday. The battle to start next to Mosley has been a fierce one throughout the preseason between inside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor, who started last season, and rookie fourth rounder Kenny Young.

"The weak-side inside linebacker competition is trending upward after good performances from both Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor," WNST's Luke Jones wrote after the Ravens played the Dolphins in the preseason. "My guess is we'll continue to see a rotation early in the season, but Young will be tough to keep off the field as he gains more experience."

Unfortunately, the competition could potentially hit a lull as Young is currently nursing a left knee injury that Harbaugh described yesterday as "day-to-day." To the Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee, Young's injury could be a major setback for the entire defense.

"His availability could be crucial for a defense that has only three other inside linebackers," Lee wrote.

If Young is unavailable, expect to see Onwuasor get the majority of snaps next to Mosley against Buffalo, with rookie Chris Board also playing. Once Young is at full speed, the competition to play next to Mosley between him and Onwuasor should heat back up.

Most Influential Ravens for 2018 Season

With the regular season starting in just five days, Stevenson took a stab at naming Ravens who must perform well in order for the team to succeed.

"Just please don't tell me I missed Joe Flacco," Stevenson wrote. "I figured that one went without saying."

WR John Brown: Stevenson sees Brown as a replacement for wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown's speed helps him separate from cornerbacks, which Stevenson thinks will tremendously help an offense that was No. 27 in third-down conversions in 2017.

"The Ravens were 9th in the NFL in scoring last season," Stevenson wrote. "Imagine what we're looking at if the new additions could get them into the 15-20 range in both categories listed above (yards per pass attempt, 3rd down conversions). Brown figures to be the biggest catalyst for that potential improvement."

Brown's developing chemistry with Flacco has been one of the bright spots of Baltimore's preseason, and he looks set to play a vital role this year.

TE Hayden Hurst: Stevenson admits relying heavily on a rookie tight end, especially one that is expected to miss the first couple weeks of the season after foot surgery, is "scary." ESPN noted that rookie tight ends traditionally struggle, as it's one of the most complicated positions on the field. In fact, rookie tight ends have eclipsed 600 yards receiving just twice in the past 15 years.

That hasn't stopped the Ravens from having high hopes for their first draft pick of 2018 after an excellent preseason.

"In order to produce a 'special' season, Hurst will have to be one of the few rookie tight ends who defied the odds," ESPN wrote.

OLB Za'Darius Smith: Though the Ravens have depth both at outside linebacker and along the defensive line, Stevenson believes Smith will be key this season because of his versatility. Last season, Smith played 14 games, including four starts, and finished with 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He's now entering his fourth (contract) year.

"He's been a terror in the preseason and he'll need to keep that going in the regular season, especially late in games when the Ravens need to get off the field on 3rd down," Stevenson wrote.

To see which other players Stevenson highlighted, click here.

C.J. Mosley Named as Potential Defensive Player of the Year

NFL Network's Good Morning Football pundit Kyle Brandt expects 2018 to be the best season of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley's career. Not only does Brandt expect Mosley to have a standout season, he predicts the 26-year-old will be the best defender in the NFL.

The GMFB crew put forth their NFL Defensive Player of the Year predictions, and Mosley was included in the discussion by Brandt, who quickly disclosed that he's buying stock in the entire Baltimore defense.

"I had a system for this, it's not all anarchy with me," Brandt said. "I tried to think of who will have the best defense, and then who's their best player."

Mosley has already been named to both the Pro Bowl and the AP Second All-Pro Team three times in his four NFL seasons. His 469 tackles since he entered the league in 2014 is fifth most in the NFL.

He finished last season with 132 total tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. One of those interceptions he returned 63 yards for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.

Despite all of Mosley's accolades, Brandt still feels he flies under the radar as one of the NFL's premier players.

"He's not a household name, and is still on his rookie deal, the fifth and final year," Brandt said. "He is one of the best players in all of football at any position."

Michael Pierce Makes Pro Football Focus All-Preseason Team

You'd think the Ravens would have multiple players named to PFF's Gordon McGuinness' 2018 NFL All-Preseason Team after being the lone team to get through the NFL preseason without losing a game.

Instead, only one Raven managed to crack the roster – defensive tackle Michael Pierce. With a 91.1 rating, Pierce tied with Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Geno Atkins as the highest rated interior lineman in the preseason.

"Pierce makes it for his dominance against the run," McGuinness wrote. "So tough for opposing offensive lines to move, Pierce anchored the Ravens run defense and finished the preseason with three tackles resulting in a defensive stop, good for a 14.3 run-stop percentage."

Pierce is coming off a strong sophomore campaign in which he finished with 32 tackles, and was rated as the 11th best interior defender in the NFL by PFF.

The Ravens will be counting on Pierce to continue his strong play into the 2018 regular season. With defensive tackle Willie Henry expected to miss the first couple games after having surgery on an umbilical hernia, Pierce could see his role on the team expand.

Quick Hits

  • The Baltimore Sun's Katherine Fominykh profiled three former Ravens – tight end Dennis Pitta, running back Justin Forsett and linebacker Jarret Johnson – as they make their transition from being players to being members of the media. All three will be part of the WBAL radio team during gamedays this season. It's been a challenging adjustment for all three, with Johnson saying, "I'm trying to become what I hated when I was playing. I hated reporters."
  • Running back De'Lance Turner, a member of the Ravens' practice squad, made PFF's Austin Gayle's 2018 NFL All-Preseason Rookie Team. "Turner, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Alcorn State, far exceeded minimal expectations in the preseason," Gayle wrote.
  • PFF's Dan Clasgens previewed the AFC North from a fantasy football perspective, naming a best value, bust, sleeper, rookie and best current player for the 2020 season for each team.

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