The Baltimore Ravens' inactivity in free agency this season can mean only one thing: they want to get younger at some positions. They could do this by using their eight picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. But it's more likely that the young players who will actually make a difference for the team were on the roster last season.
Because of the lockout limiting practice time, there were a few players that were simply not ready for the NFL last year. Now with a full offseason, that excuse will not hold anymore. Having lost five important players to free agency and one player (Ricky Williams) to retirement, the Ravens will need some new faces to step up in 2012.
Let's take a look at some of those players who could have breakthrough seasons in 2012.
A fifth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Arthur Jones' primary claim to fame so far is that he is the older brother of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Jones has played sparingly during his two seasons in the league with only 20 tackles in his career and zero starts so far.
That should change this coming season with the departure of Corey Redding to the Indianapolis Colts. Although Redding started in 11 games last season, it's doubtful that he would have won the starting job outright due to his age. Now the Ravens have two younger players in Pernell McPhee and Jones pushing each other for starting defensive end.
McPhee is possibly the favorite to win the job and deservedly so as he got six sacks last season despite the fact that he didn't start a single game. But Jones definitely can't be counted out yet. He has developed a reputation as a hardworking player that excels in the weight room, which are often the kind of players that excel under Coach Harbaugh's system.
Last season during the lockout, Jones even engaged in some MMA cross-training with his brother. It could only make the Ravens defense that much more scarier with a potential MMA fighter starting on the line alongside Haloti Ngata and Mount Cody.
Ricky Williams' sudden retirement leaves a void at the backup running back position. That's bad news this year considering that the Ravens still have yet to work out Ray Rice's next contract. That leaves two players currently as reserve running backs, 2011 rookies Damien Berry and Anthony Allen.
The Ravens surprised a lot of people by not making any attempts to sign a veteran running back during the beginning of free agency. That could change in the coming months, especially since most running backs will be willing to sign for less money.
For now though, the Ravens seem confident in the abilities of Anthony Allen to be their backup should anything happen to Rice. The seventh-round pick out of Georgia Tech is a very different type of running back compared to Rice as he is a stronger power runner. Should he figure out how to improve his pass-blocking and prove he can handle carrying the ball five to 10 times a game, there's no reason to believe that Allen can't be a great backup to Rice.
As the Ravens' first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, it's safe to say that Sergio Kindle has been a monumental bust so far. Most of this was due to the freak head injury he suffered after falling down two flights of stairs prior to the 2010 season. Still, it's been two years and Kindle essentially hasn't seen the field at all during that time span.
It's great that he's gotten better from the head injury, but Kindle still needs to find a way to get on the field and deliver on his unfulfilled promise. Kindle also needs to fix his reputation as he has become known as a problem player after crashing his car into an apartment while in college and getting a DUI during his first year with the Ravens.
If there was any golden opportunity for Kindle to do all these things, it would be this season. Jarrett Johnson has departed for the San Diego Chargers leaving a void at outside linebacker. Now Kindle can compete with Paul Krueger for this starting position.
It's a position that Kindle would likely be starting at had he not suffered the injury. As it is, this is another chance for redemption and the Ravens can only hope that Kindle will finally find a way not to let them down.
Pernell McPhee burst onto the scene last season with 23 tackles and six sacks despite the fact that he didn't start a game. Amazingly his six sacks were second on the Ravens only to Terrell Suggs' 14. The fifth-round pick from Mississippi State demonstrated a tremendous amount of upside that could cause him to be one of the Ravens' best pickups in the 2011 draft.
McPhee saw playing time in every game last season and he was quick to make an impact. One of his sacks sealed a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, while his only forced fumble of the year was important in the Ravens' regular-season win over the Houston Texans. Just from that small sample of play, there's reason for the Ravens to be excited about McPhee's future in the NFL.
McPhee will likely face Arthur Jones for the starting defensive end position. Regardless of who wins this competition, both players should see a lot of playing time alongside the line.
The departure of Ben Grubbs leaves the Ravens with a void at left guard. In the event that they choose not to address that need in the draft, it looks like another second-year player from 2011 could benefit. That would be third-round pick Jah Reid, who played in all of seven snaps in 2011.
At 6'7" and 327 pounds, Reid instantly stands out as a huge man even by offensive linemen standards. Obviously he hasn't shown anything yet in his brief NFL career, but Reid certainly has a lot of potential. He also has the confidence of Coach John Harbaugh, who named him the starter for now.
Although he's a tackle, Reid has fluid motions and could successfully make the transition to guard. He's also very effective with pass and run-blocking thanks to his excellent body posture. Now that the position looks like his to lose, expect Reid to put in tons of work and do his best to prove his detractors wrong.