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Which Ravens Must Take The Next Step?


On Monday, took a look at five players in the Ravens' locker room who need to revert to their previous form after a 2008 showing that is not up to their typical standard.

Now, five more Ravens are highlighted – young talents who could have breakout seasons in 2009.

And while it is obvious that quarterback [Joe Flaccointernal-link-placeholder-0] certainly should head this list, let's examine some other contributors who could play heavily into the Ravens' success or failure this season.

Williams showed promise the year he was drafted in the fourth round (111th overall) out of Oregon. That season, he caught 22 balls for 396 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team with an 18.0-yard average per grab.

Ravens fans were expecting the 6-foot-2, 197-pound receiver to really break out as a sophomore, but an ankle injury derailed the campaign.

Ravens fans were then expecting Williams to excel in his third season, but he couldn't make it past seven games because of another ankle injury, this time to his Achilles' heel.

Can Williams ever be the big, deep threat Baltimore saw during its 2006 draft? He has a lot to prove to show he can live up to his potential. During Organized Team Activities (OTAs), it was evident that Williams added 10-15 pounds of weight to his wiry frame to better handle the rigors of the season. He looked like he had almost recovered from offseason surgery on his ankle, except for a slight hitch in his step as he walked back to the huddle.

Head coach **John Harbaugh** stated that the time between the final practice and training camp's opening day is critical for Williams to finally grow into the role the team envisions for him. And because the Ravens did not make any significant additions to the receiving corps, Williams' importance to the passing attack cannot be understated.

The diminutive Rice will likely have an increased workload in 2009, as demonstrated by the amount of reps he received with the first team in minicamps.

As a rookie last year, Rice did the most with what he was given within the offense. He was third on the team with 107 carries for 454 yards (a team-best 4.2-yard average) and even hauled in 33 receptions for 273 yards.

And that was mainly as a third-down back.

Rice wants to show that he can tote the football on every play, so he bulked up through his chest and shoulders to handle more of a pounding, while it was obvious that his shifty speed remained each time he squirted through the line and made a defender miss tagging him.

It is unknown whether **Willis McGahee** will reclaim his starting designation, but Rice would do well to take another step forward.

Much responsibility rests on Gooden's shoulder pads as he fills in for Bart Scott.

Gooden spent most of his rookie year on Injured Reserve (hip), but a solid early performance on special teams gave Ravens coaches hope that he could one day be Baltimore's next impact linebacker.

All signs point to that happening for the University of Miami product. During minicamps, Gooden seemed at home next to fellow Hurricane [Ray Lewisinternal-link-placeholder-0], flying around the field with his trademark quickness. Gooden is going to receive every opportunity to advance his performance. He must simply take advantage of it.

Terry is entering his fifth season after the Ravens used a second-round draft pick on him in 2005. Throughout his career, Terry has been a steady backup, starting 18 out of 48 games played.

But various injuries have recently kept him from completing an entire campaign or claiming the starting right tackle spot for which he was groomed. Two years ago, Terry battled an ankle injury for most of the year. In 2008, he was limited with an ailing knee and a concussion.

As Terry worked to fully return from offseason knee surgery, rookie [Michael Oherinternal-link-placeholder-0] stepped in at OTAs and made a strong bid for the first string. Still, if Terry can bounce back, he could challenge for that position, according to Ravens coaches. If Terry doesn't win the battle coming out of training camp even while continuing to progress, the Ravens would still have one of the youngest and most talented group of tackles in the NFL.

Many people would argue that Ngata is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but this could be the year he truly separates himself and gains national respect and that elusive first Pro Bowl.

Ngata was dominant last year, starting all 16 games for the third straight season and totaling 77 tackles with two interceptions. Yet, he was stuck in a conference that features several excellent defensive linemen, including Cleveland's Shaun Rodgers, former Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth, the New York Jets' Kris Jenkins and Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton.

Rising to another level would mean that Ngata would firmly establish himself among the NFL's elite at his position. Even though the players are essentially off until training camp opens, Ngata has remained at team headquarters to work out. Perhaps he can see a Hawaiian vacation in his future.    

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