Baltimore Ravens: 5 Position Battles to Watch This Offseason
Despite being a team that relishes stability, the Ravens have undergone a roster upheaval this offseason, guaranteeing new starters at several positions in 2012.
In addition to the loss of several starters, a few Ravens may find that their starting job is insecure. After missing a routine kick that could have sent the AFC Championship to overtime, Billy Cundiff is on the hot seat this offseason.
Though the Ravens traded out of the first round in the NFL Draft, they still drafted a few players who will be given the opportunity to contribute immediately in a starting role.
In addition, the Ravens signed several players who may not challenge for starting roles, but will compete to be major role players this offseason.
These competitions will be among the main stories this offseason. Here are five battles to watch throughout organized team activities and training camp.
Left Guard—Jah Reid vs. Kelechi Osemele vs. Gino Gradkowski
After losing Ben Grubbs in free agency, the Ravens have an open competition at the left guard position.
Second year man Jah Reid considers himself the front-runner for the job, as he told CSNWashington, "I want this position, and it's mine to lose."
The Ravens clearly weren't comfortable just handing Reid the job however, as they drafted Kelechi Osemele in the second round and Gino Gradkowski in the fourth, both of whom should provide intense competition for the job.
Osemele was reportedly the star of the Ravens' recent rookie minicamp, as Baltimoreravens.com raves about his size and explosive ability.
Finally, Gradkowski does not carry the hype that Osemele carries as a second round pick, but he is a sound technician who appears to be in line to take Matt Birk's position at center when Birk retires. The Ravens could choose to give Gradkowski some experience at guard to help him in that process.
Gradkowski lacks the size and explosion that Reid and Osemele both possess, so he seems likely to sit behind the big guys and learn for his future role as the starting center.
The Ravens generally relish experience, so Reid definitely has a leg up on Osemele, but Osemele has more upside.
Right now, Reid seems more likely to take first-team snaps, but do not be surprised if Osemele overtakes him in training camp.
Third Wide Receiver—Jacoby Jones vs. Tandon Doss, Laquan Williams, or David Reed
After the NFL Draft, despite drafting Tommy Streeter, the Ravens receiving corps looked to be weak behind Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.
To address this need, the Ravens signed Jacoby Jones. The Ravens must expect Jones to earn the third receiver spot, but he will have to fight off a host of young receivers.
Tandon Doss is a player with excellent size and hands, but he was not given a chance to play last year, and he did not catch a pass in 2011. Still, he is the most talented of the group, and he has the chance to make some noise with a solid camp.
David Reed might be the fastest of this group, as he possesses comparable speed to Jacoby Jones. Unlike Jones, though, Reed has never been a factor in an NFL passing game, and his time may be running out to make an impact.
Finally, Laquan Williams was given the opportunity to be the number three receiver last year after Lee Evans was injured, but he failed to seize it, seemingly dropping as many passes as he caught.
The Ravens signed Jones to become a threat in the passing game, but Doss could overtake him in camp with a strong performance. If Doss is significantly improved from last year, he could be given the opportunity to become a solid possession receiver in 2012.
Regardless, the Ravens receiving corps has the depth to be better than it was in 2011. Some of the young receivers could make an impact along with Jones, which would be a welcome development for a passing game that lacked options in 2011.
Dime Back—Corey Graham vs. Asa Jackson vs. Danny Gorrer
This competition will not get much press, but it might be the most evenly matched positional battle in the Ravens' organization.
Danny Gorrer is the incumbent, and he played incredibly well at times last year considering the lack of hype surrounding him. He played a tremendous game against the Jets' Santonio Holmes in 2011, and he has earned more playing time.
The Ravens will not just hand Gorrer playing time, though, as they signed Corey Graham to solidify both the Ravens' special teams and secondary. Graham has had success as a nickel corner in the past, so he has the experience to be a solid cover corner for the Ravens.
Finally, while the Ravens drafted Asa Jackson mainly for his punt returning prowess, he has the potential to make noise in training camp. He is the most athletic of this group, and that athleticism could earn him playing time if he hones his instincts and acclimates to the pro game.
All three of these players will earn defensive snaps in 2012, which will grant the Ravens' flexibility in picking the best matchup based on the scenario. In key situations, though, Danny Gorrer has the upside and experience to earn the most defensive snaps this season.
In an increasingly passing oriented league, the Ravens have made upgrading the secondary a priority, and this has given them depth that is almost unparalleled in the NFL.
Defensive End—Art Jones vs. Pernell McPhee
The battle for the starting defensive end comes down to whether the Ravens view Pernell McPhee as an every down player or predominantly a situational pass-rusher.
McPhee was absolutely electric at times in 2011, and he proved to be a steal for the Ravens. He has the potential to continuously improve as a pass-rusher, and he will be a big part of trying to replace Terrell Suggs' production.
Art Jones, on the other hand, is a less flashy player, but he has been the more steady player throughout his career.
He has continuously been among the Ravens' hardest offseason workers, which has given him the strength to set the edge as well as anyone on the Ravens. His run-stopping ability should earn him playing time, and if he develops as a pass-rusher, he could be a star in 2012.
More likely than not, Jones will play in running situations and McPhee in passing situations. Both have the potential to be solid starters, so the Ravens have solid depth at the position regardless of who is the eventual starter.
Kicker—Billy Cundiff vs. Justin Tucker
After missing the most important kick of his career, Billy Cundiff instantly put himself on the hot seat.
Despite this, the Ravens were adamant that Billy Cundiff would be back in 2012. According to Baltimoreravens.com, John Harbaugh has been supportive of the embattled kicker, saying, "I would anticipate Billy will be our kicker for the opening game of the season."
To be fair, Cundiff has a tremendous season in 2010, and has earned the right to a fair competition for the job. He has solid leg strength, and when healthy, he is reasonably accurate as well.
Still, there is no denying that he choked in the worst way in the AFC Championship game, and he has minimal experience making big kicks in his career.
The Ravens were expected to bring in some competition, and they did so by bringing in undrafted free agent Justin Tucker for a tryout, which he made the most of with an impressive minicamp, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Tucker is a bit of an unknown. He was only the starting kicker for two years in college, so his sample size is small compared to some other kickers.
Despite his small sample size, Tucker has displayed solid accuracy, a strong leg, and a penchant for clutch kicks. His game winning 40 yard kick against Texas A&M was a high point of the Texas Longhorns' season and his career.
Impressively, Tucker nailed two of his four kicks from beyond 50 yards, and more impressively, he hit nine of his 11 kicks between 40 and 49 yards in college.
Cundiff, on the other hand, only hit seven of nine from between 40 and 49 yards, and worse, one of six from beyond 50 yards in 2011.
Ultimately, this decision comes down to whether the Ravens are content with Billy Cundiff, or if they want to take a risk on the talented youngster.
In the end, Tucker will not get a fair chance to win this job, regardless of his performance in training camp.
The Ravens are a team that relish experience and certainty, and they will take the guaranteed mediocrity of Billy Cundiff over the high upside but uncertainty of Justin Tucker.