Stock Up, Stock Down on Key Baltimore Ravens Heading into Training Camp
41 days from now, the Baltimore Ravens will begin their 17th annual training camp.
This year, like last year, training camp will be held at the team facility in Owings Mills, MD, as opposed to their former location of Westminster, MD. That change didn't seem to faze the Ravens last year, as 2011 was the second-best season in team history.
Although those two locations are only 21 miles apart, not having to move from one location to another at the beginning of a football season is a huge relief for players, coaches and staff.
The Ravens know who many of their starters will be. Despite contractual disagreements between the team and Ray Rice and Ed Reed, conventional wisdom says those superstars and Baltimore's front office will get deals done in time for their season opener on September 10.
There are others players like Billy Cundiff and Sergio Kindle who could play key roles and help the Ravens win, but could also not even make the team. Rookies Gino Gradkowski, Bernard Pierce and Tommy Streeter may not get a large amount of playing time this season, but they too have the potential to help Baltimore win games.
As the Ravens make another attempt to return to the Super Bowl, there are four key players who must maximize their talents in order for that to happen.
Joe Flacco, Quarterback, stock: UP
Where does Joe Flacco rank among other NFL starting quarterbacks?
"I don't think he's good, I think he's awesome. I know I'm right. I don't need your stamp of approval."-Phil Simms
That's uncommon praise of Flacco from one of the more accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history. Simms holds all-time records for passer rating (150.92) and completion percentage (88.00) in a Super Bowl.
Simms is right. Flacco gets heat because of a less-than-stellar completion percentage, but is able to make any throw he's asked to make. Flacco's durability is an important asset to the Ravens, as he has never missed a start in his career.
As Simms points out in the article, the Ravens' offense features the running game, not the passing game. But on the road in the AFC Championship, when the Ravens did need Flacco, he delivered in a big way (22-of-36 for 306 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT).
Bryant McKinnie, Tackle, stock: DOWN
Entering his 11th season, Bryant McKinnie has the ability to still play and block well as a starting left tackle. The two major questions surrounding McKinnie heading into camp are: Will he be focused? Will he be in shape?
According to the Ravens' website, McKinnie is currently 6'8" and weighs 360 pounds. I can't imagine that is a weight he's comfortable playing at.
NFL teams are stringent about health and wellness when it comes to their players, so obviously McKinnie has all the resources he needs at his disposal. While he may not be in perfect playing shape at the advent of training camp, it won't matter unless he's not ready for the season-opener versus the Bengals. If that is the case, McKinnie is in trouble.
On the bright side, McKinnie "Has not missed a game due to injury in his NFL career, playing in 132 consecutive contests."-BaltimoreRavens.com
Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, stock: UP
As the Ravens biggest cornerback and second-biggest defensive back (6'2", 210 pounds), Smith has a lot of potential. With the valuable experience he gained last year coupled with the playing time he will see in 2012, Smith has the tools to be a premier defender on a perennially elite NFL defense.
Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, stock: NEUTRAL
As a rookie, albeit a very talented and successful rookie, it's tough to prognosticate how Courtney Upshaw will perform in 2012. With the injury to Terrell Suggs leaving an indefinite vacancy on the defense, Upshaw will have to compete with fellow pass-rushers Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger for playing time.
Can Upshaw deliver? Although he was the Defensive MVP of the 2012 BCS National Championship, and as tough as the SEC is in college football, the NFL is a much more difficult brand of football than Upshaw has ever played.
Time will tell.
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