Baltimore Ravens: 4 Biggest Storylines Heading into Camp
From contract negotiations with quarterback Joe Flacco, to linebacker Terrell Suggs' season-ending injury, to coach John Harbuagh's comments regarding the New England Patriots to the questions surrounding safety Ed Reed's return, the Ravens have constantly found themselves in the off-the-field headlines.
However, as the time for training camp begins to approach, the team must turn all of their focus onto the field and begin to prepare for the upcoming 2012 season.
Here are the biggest headlines as the Baltimore Ravens enter camp.
Can the Defense Remain Dominant?
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Defense has always been the staple of the Baltimore Ravens. They are consistently ranked in the top five and have some of the top players at their respective positions.
The defensive unit has seen some attention this offseason. It lost Terrell Suggs to a torn Achilles and Ed Reed is playing the holdout game.
Minicamp and training camp are the true tests to see how the Ravens' D will look without T-Sizzle on the field. It also is the time for the young players to step in and show that they are ready to fulfill their new roles.
Players like rookie Courtney Upshaw will have to live up to his "Suggs-like" talent, and second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith will have to show he has learned from his valuable experience and is beginning to develop into a complete defensive back.
This is the time for the Baltimore defense to gel together and prove to the league that even with the loss of one of their big-time players they are still dominant and should be feared every Sunday or Monday.
Status of Ed Reed
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This seems to be a question every year around this time.
Safety Ed Reed will take to the broadcasting airwaves and flirt with idea of retirement, forcing both Ravens' officials and fans to hold their breath. Yet every season, No. 20 is always in his free safety position come game time.
Reed is also in constant protest of his contract. The 11-year veteran believes he is still one of the best safeties in the game and should be paid like one. Year in and year out, he continues to prove his worthiness.
Reed has missed all mandatory activities so far, and as the Ravens head into 2012 minicamp and training camp, look for him to continue to be an absence. Baltimore is used to this "stunt" by now, and they are just hoping Reed will return by the first Monday night kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals, in shape and ready to go.
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Special teams has seemed to be a struggle for the Baltimore Ravens as of late, so it is only fitting that they were a missed 32-yard field goal away from the Super Bowl last season.
This has called a lot of attention to this unit and made it a priority heading into the offseason. The Ravens have brought in a few veterans to hopefully start the building process, including special teams Pro Bowler Corey Graham, safety Sean Considine, and returner Jacoby Jones. They also re-signed their own special teams star Brendon Ayanbadejo.
However, the biggest concern is at the position of place kicker. Billy Cundiff and undrafted free agent Justin Tucker will be the battle to watch.
Cundiff, when healthy, has a solid leg and is very accurate for the most part. He had an incredible season in 2010 but has seemed to be on a down curve since then. Tucker is a bit of an unknown. The Texas Longhorn was the starting kicker for only two years in college, but despite the small sample size, he proved to be strong, accurate, and most importantly, clutch.
The Ravens have the minicamp and training camp periods to decide whether they ultimately are content with the seemingly declining veteran or if they are willing to take a risk on an uncertain youngster.
Can Joe Flacco Follow Up His Claim?
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During the offseason, Joe Flacco made the claim that he is the best quarterback in the NFL.
So far, Flacco has held true to the claim and was very impressive in OTAs. As the team shifts into the minicamp and training camp periods, there will be even more pressure on Flacco to live up to his statement.
The five-year quarterback has a strong arm and relatively good accuracy, but he certainly has room for improvement. The biggest concern is his consistency.
He throws a lot of interceptions, but he also throws a lot of touchdowns. If he claims to be the best, then his turnover rate must come down and his touchdown rate must continue to go up.
Joe Flacco must use minicamp and training camp as his ways to prove to his non-believers that he has and can play with the confidence that his statement entails. If he can do this and then translate it into the actual season, the Ravens will be sure to have a great year ahead.