Baltimore Ravens: 5 Potential Sleepers to Watch for in Training Camp
Training camp is now here for the Baltimore Ravens, which means their preparations for the 2012 NFL season are officially underway. Yesterday marked the first official day of training camp as the full team came together at their practice facility in Owings Mills, Md.
One of the best parts of training camp is seeing how various new pieces of the team fit in. The term sleeper comes up in a lot training camps as NFL teams hope to be surprised by rookies, undrafted players and also underachievers from past seasons.
That is not the case, though, with some of the new players on the team. Some of these players have real sleeper potential and could even be on the path towards locking up surprise starting jobs.
Let's take a look at some of the Ravens' potential sleepers at this early stage of training camp.
1. Arthur Jones, DE
One of the defense's starting positions that is up for grabs is a defensive end spot. This position was vacated by the departure of Cory Redding via free agency.
With two enormous men in Terrence Cody at the other defensive end and Haloti Ngata at nose tackle, the Ravens three-man defensive front should be ferocious. Right now, though it's unclear if that third man will be Pernell McPhee or Arthur Jones.
With a knee injury sidelining McPhee some this offseason, Jones has a slight advantage in the competition.
Now in his third NFL season, Jones took a lot of snaps with the first-team defense during organized team activities and minicamps. His size and strength give him an advantage when he has to combat offensive linemen on running downs.
Jones has been doing his part this offseason to get this starting position. He has significantly improved his conditioning while also building up more strength in the locker room. He has also been a regular during a lot of the Ravens' offseason workouts.
Although Jones may be the favorite to win the job now, both he and McPhee should prepare for regular playing time. Both players could wind up splitting the position, which could be a great tactic that helps to keep the defensive linemen fresh.
2. Billy Cundiff, K
From the moment he missed the final field goal in the AFC Championship, Billy Cundiff's offseason has been a nightmare. Ravens fans were absolutely furious with him and it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would be cut during the offseason.
Well it's now been six months since that infamous day and Cundiff is still on the roster. He is not the only kicker, though, and he will need to beat out undrafted rookie Justin Tucker if he wants to remain on the Ravens.
Angry Ravens fans look at Cundiff and all they see is the horrible missed field goal of six months ago. If they could look just a little harder, though, they could see that this was the kicker that led the NFL in touchbacks during the 2010 season.
That was a season where he only missed three field goals, which is almost as good as it gets for an NFL kicker.
If Cundiff can somehow overcome the burden of the missed field goal, he could potentially become better than he has ever been. There is so much pressure on him now, as nearly everyone wants him out of Baltimore.
Few NFL teams have loyalty to kickers, so Cundiff, a journeyman who has played on nine different teams, knows he could be cut any week.
So far the pressure doesn't seem to be getting to him. Cundiff finished 4-for-4 on attempted field goals in practice yesterday. Of course Tucker finished 5-for-5, so it's fully on to see if Cundiff can return to Pro Bowl form and find a way to redeem himself.
3. Asa Jackson, CB
Cornerback is a pretty deep position for the Ravens with three players fighting for two starting spots. Lardarius Webb played at a Pro Bowl level last season, while any team would be happy to have Cary Williams or Jimmy Smith as a starter.
Although he's not yet competing for a starting role, Asa Jackson also deserves some credit for his play during training camp.
A smaller cornerback drafted in the fifth round this season, expectations weren't too high for Jackson's rookie season. At best, it seemed that he would be a fifth or sixth corner that would get most of his playing time on special teams.
Jackson had to deal with a wrist injury earlier this week but it doesn't seem to be bothering him anymore. He showed his health and also his confidence by picking off Curtis Painter during Thursday's practice.
Should Jackson continue to play well in training camp, he could have what it takes to become a productive nickel back in the future.
There is another area where Jackson could possibly have a more immediate impact. This is at kick returner, where Jackson averaged 25.8 yards during his last college season.
The Ravens have been somewhat lacking at kick returner for several years now, so it's possible that Jackson could start over both incumbent returner David Reed and free-agent acquisition Jacoby Jones.
4. Bryan Hall, NT
Bryan Hall's name is one that is most likely only familiar to diehard Ravens fans. He spent the entirety of his rookie season in 2011 on the Ravens practice squad.
Hall has made it his goal to make the 53-man roster this season. In order to realize his goal, he has spent a ton of time at the team's training complex. So much time that it's arguable he's spent the most time there out of all the players on the Ravens roster.
All of this offseason training will hopefully give Hall the advantage he was denied last year because of the lockout. For now, his best bet is to get the backup nose tackle position behind 2011 Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata.
It's going to be a tricky competition, though, as Hall will go against veteran Ma'ake Kemoeatu, seventh-round choice Deangelo Tyson and undrafted rookies Nicholas Jean-Baptiste and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen.
Hall's work ethic is commendable even if simply making the roster will be an uphill battle for him. His blue-collar work ethic fits in well with the Ravens, so hopefully he'll get a spot on the 53-man roster this season.
5. Christian Thompson, FS
Another late-round pick in this year's draft, Christian Thompson could be a player who makes an impact in his rookie season. The fourth-round pick currently has the inside track to becoming the backup and possibly even the successor to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed.
For this year, it's unlikely that Thompson will start, so his contributions on the field may only come by playing special teams.
Reed has ended his holdout so he will start at free safety while Bernard Pollard starts at strong safety. Those two are clearly the best safeties on a roster that mostly has young players like Thompson or older veterans like Sean Considine.
However, the possibility always exists that Reed could miss playing time due to injury. In two of the last three seasons, he has missed more than four regular-season games.
If Reed misses any time, Thompson could be starting instead. So far, team officials have been pleased with the speed and physicality that Thompson brings to the table. This upside could be enough to put Thompson over Considine or Emanuel Cook.
Another thing that Thompson has going to his advantage is a comradery with Reed that he established prior to the draft. The two met for dinner and Thompson did his best to take away as much as he could from the memorable meeting.
He's continued trying to soak up information like a sponge, which is definitely the best way to learn from an All-Pro talent like Reed.
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