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What You Need to Know As Ravens Training Camp Begins


Twelve months ago, the Ravens opened training camp with Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback, Alex Collins as the No. 1 running back and linebacker C.J. Mosley as the team's leading tackler.

Those players are gone, along with many others. As they prepare to open camp Thursday, the 2019 Ravens have a fresh look with a new offense built around quarterback Lamar Jackson, and a host of new personnel led by safety Earl Thomas III, running back Mark Ingram II and rookie wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.

Change isn't unusual in the NFL. The key question is: Have the Ravens changed for the better?

Last season, the switch to Jackson sparked the Ravens to six wins in their last seven games, and they finished 10-6 to make the playoffs for the first time in four years as AFC North champs. However, their playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers intensified debate about Jackson and the team's outlook for 2019.

Some view the Ravens as a playoff team and Super Bowl contender. Others expect them to watch the playoffs at home, with the Cleveland Browns a popular choice to dethrone Baltimore as division champs.

Training camp won't answer every question about the Ravens, but it's an important phase in their preparation. In John Harbaugh's 11 seasons as head coach, the Ravens have started fast with a 25-12 record in September. Historically, the Ravens finish the preseason ready to win, and training camp helps set the tone.

Here's what you need to know as training camp kicks off:

Dates: July 25-August 14

Joint Practices: with Jaguars (Aug. 5-6), with Eagles (Aug. 19-20)

Here are 22 players (there could have been a lot more) to keep an eye on at Ravens training camp.

What to Watch

Jackson's daily command of the offense

The focus has been on Jackson's throwing, and he has put in the effort this offseason to become more accurate and consistent. But there's more. Fumbling was an issue for Jackson last year, and he needs to clean that up too. Jackson also wants to improve his ballhandling, faking, and decision-making. Those split seconds when Jackson decides whether to hand off, run, or throw will be a critical part of the Ravens' run-pass option attack. Training camp reps will be important for Jackson, because he may not play much during the preseason, and the Ravens are likely to keep major parts of their offense under wraps until Week 1.

It's shortsighted to think Jackson is a finished product at age 22. His talent is obvious – his speed, his competitiveness and his ability to make plays with his legs. New Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman can dream of new ways to utilize Jackson's skills, especially since he's surrounded by more speed this year. But how deep the Ravens go into their playbook will depend partly on how much Jackson looks ready to handle. If Jackson can stack good days during training camp, it will bode well for how diverse the new offense will be.

Emerging offensive playmakers

Offensively and defensively, the Ravens want more game-changing plays this season.

How quickly Brown can join training camp and recover from his February foot surgery will be important. If Brown becomes the playmaker in Baltimore that he was in college at Oklahoma, it will dramatically change the offense, giving the Ravens a quick-strike threat to take pressure off Jackson.

The tight end group is solid and deep with Mark Andrews, a healthy Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle giving the Ravens opportunity to use multiple sets. Andrews looks like an ascending young player, and people should not forget how good Hurst looked in training camp last year before suffering a foot injury that required surgery. Hurst has returned stronger and healthy – a good sign for him heading into camp.

The Ravens can go four-deep at running back with Ingram, Gus Edwards, rookie Justice Hill and Kenneth Dixon. But how will they be utilized, and can Hill use his speed to earn consistent touches as a rookie? Training camp will help determine where he stands, while Dixon must solidify a role.

Emerging defensive playmakers

The Ravens lost talent, leadership, and huge personalities from a unit that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL. Not hearing linebacker Terrell Suggs' booming voice and one-liners during practice will be different. After 16 seasons with the Ravens, Suggs is with the Arizona Cardinals, Mosley is with the New York Jets, safety Eric Weddle is with the Los Angeles Rams, and last year's sack leader, Za'Darius Smith, is with the Green Bay Packers.

Yet, the Ravens will be faster defensively with Thomas patrolling the secondary, and they have the potential to force more takeaways with perhaps the NFL's best group of cornerbacks. Patrick "Peanut" Onwuasor takes over Mosley's middle linebacker spot, and every time the Ravens have asked Onwuasor to take on more responsibility, he has handled it. 

Michael Pierce's conditioning

The Ravens' talented defensive tackle was not in good enough shape to participate in mandatory minicamp. If he can avoid setbacks during training camp and be 100 percent by Week 1, Pierce and Brandon Williams will once again give the Ravens one of the league's top run-stopping combos. Stopping the run is a foundation of Baltimore's defense. Pierce needs to show he's back to being himself.

Best Competitions

Wide receiver: Brown, Chris Moore, Willie Snead IV and rookie Miles Boykin are regarded as locks to make the roster at wide receiver. That leaves nine wide receivers competing for probably two spots – Quincy Adeboyejo, Michael Floyd, Joe Horn Jr., Jordan Lasley, Sean Modster, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jaylen Smith and Antoine Wesley. Those nine wide receivers need to make plays in practice against the Ravens' deep group of corners. They need to make plays during joint practices against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles, and during the preseason. Roberts may have an edge due to his NFL experience with the Oakland Raiders, but the Ravens are looking for a wideout to emerge who simply looks too good to cut.

Left guard: Heading into camp, it looks like a four-man competition among James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie Ben Powers. Whoever starts at left guard is key, when you consider the Ravens could be a team that depends heavily on its running game. Perhaps by Week 3 of the preseason, the Ravens will want to settle on a starter so the line can begin to build chemistry.

Inside linebacker: Kenny Young and Chris Board will compete for reps at inside linebacker opposite Onwuasor, and they'll need to play fast, with no fear of making mistakes. Both are second-year linebackers who now have a chance at a starting spot after Mosley's departure.

Outside linebacker: The bigger question mark is the pass rush, and whether Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale can find a way to scheme pressure on the opposing quarterback if some pass rushers don't step up to help linebacker Matthew Judon. The competition for playing time opposite Judon at outside linebacker is wide open. Tyus Bowser, rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee, Shane Ray, Tim Williams? Training camp is your chance to shine.

Cornerback: The Ravens have arguably the NFL's deepest and best secondary, and that's especially apparent at cornerback. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young are the starters while Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall are also seemingly locks. That leaves veteran free-agent addition Justin Bethel, Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cyrus Jones and others battling for one or two more spots.

Here's a look at the initial roster for the 2019 season.

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