NFL training camps have now been going on for more than a week and very soon NFL fans will see the work of their favorite teams pay off on the field. That's right, the preseason is right around the corner with most teams seeing their first action within the next week.
For Baltimore Ravens fans, that first preseason game is next Thursday in Atlanta. This game will be a great opportunity for the team and fans alike to get a good glimpse of the 2012 Ravens. Although some old and established players will make what are basically glorified cameo appearances, this night is more about the unproven players.
These unproven players will be the ones seeing more playing time over the upcoming preseason games. Whether they are in competition for a starting job or a roster spot, this is a crucial time for these players.
Here's a look at the players that have impressed so far during the first week of training camp.
Although he's only a rookie, Kelechi Osemele is doing everything in his power to make a serious bid for starting at right tackle. He's learned the pro game quickly and is already seeing reps with the first team during practice.
The main obstacle standing in the way of Osemele starting is Bryant McKinnie. Not a popular name around Ravens because of his late arrival to training camp, a healthy McKinnie would still likely be one of the Raven's five best offensive linemen. Now that he has reported to training camp, McKinnie is still the starter on paper, although he should be looking over his shoulder as what Osemele is doing.
One of the highlights of Osemele's last practice was his total domination against Sergio Kindle during a pass-rushing drill. During this drill, Osemele did basically everything right by preventing Kindle from getting anywhere near his target. Even if McKinnie retains the starting job, Osemele should provide great depth for the Ravens offensive line and he should be ready to play if any of the older offensive linemen get hurt.
The recent news that Dennis Pitta has suffered a broken hand is very disconcerting to most Ravens fans. Although he and Ed Dickson started in tandem at tight end, Pitta looked great down the stretch last year. His camaraderie with Joe Flacco and his gifted hands made it seem likely that Pitta could break out even more in the 2012 season.
Although he should be back for the season opener, it could take some time for Pitta to become comfortable in the offense again. His loss could potentially be Dickson's gain. Dickson has shown some promise as a starting tight end, however his tendencies to disappear in some games and also to drop balls have prevented him from becoming a reliable starter.
Dickson will get almost all of the first-team reps during the preseason with the mentality to show that he has improved. Already he's shown some improvement in practice by making some impressive grabs in 11-on-11 drills.
Many fans are probably asking the question who is Logan Payne? It's a fair question to ask as this 27-year-old who was signed by the Ravens last week has been in the league for some time now and has had trouble sticking anywhere. The Ravens are now the sixth team for this practice squad mainstay whose career NFL statistics are three catches for 39 yards.
Those statistics may seem pretty terrible, however Payne's main reason for being sidelined has come from the myriad of injuries that has plagued his career. With a crowded competition fighting for the Ravens five or six receiver spots, Payne has to understand that he'll need to stand out if he even wants to make the roster.
So far he's been doing that by making plays in practice. These include several catches in traffic and an impressive circus-like touchdown grab. It's not much, but so far Payne seems to be doing the right things that could possibly get him a roster spot, although it's hard to see him getting past the practice squad.
The early days of training camp have shown that the kicking competition between Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker is a close one. Therefore every field goal attempt brings the coaches that much closer to determining who will be the foot of the team in 2012.
Tucker's been doing great so far and it could even be argued that he is winning the competition. He's made more kicks than Cundiff has and he's also shown that he has a stronger leg.
Preseason games should take this competition to an even more serious level. It's a pretty big gamble for teams to turn to rookies in the kicking game so Tucker cannot have very many misses during the preseasons. If he can make all or most of his preseason field goals, Tucker has a good chance at becoming the Ravens' next kicker.
A Pro Bowl special teams ace, Corey Graham was actually one of the Ravens quieter offseason signings. With three cornerbacks having firm grips on the top of the depth chart, the assumption was that Graham was mostly brought in to contribute as a special-teamer.
Well, that assumption may be incorrect. Graham has been seeing playing time at cornerback and he's taking advantage by making big plays and interceptions. In fact, he's made so many big plays that he's arguably made the most of any defensive backs on the Ravens.
Though Graham probably won't start, all of the interceptions are being noticed. He could certainly contribute in certain packages brought on the field during passing situations. Graham also serves as great depth should any of the corners ahead of him get hurt.
Even though he's had trouble with Kelechi Osemele, overall Sergio Kindle has had a good training camp. He's definitely gotten on the good side of linebackers coach Ted Monachino, who says that Kindle has taken a quantum leap this offseason.
Kindle has taken advantage of Courtney Upshaw's injury and he's now running with the first team defense. Some of his college explosiveness has returned and he's had some especially great practices in this year's training camp. One in particular saw him grab four sacks and an interception in 11-on-11 drills.
When Upshaw comes back, Kindle will likely get bumped down to a reserve role. He could potentially be a situation rusher, similar to what Paul Krueger did last year. This would almost guarantee that Kindle could collect his first career tackle and sack, a miracle given the difficulty he's had since his fall before his rookie season.
Omar Brown qualifies as another one of those deep-sleepers who isn't on most fan's radar yet. That could change though with the kind of training camp that Brown has been having.
He's had the biggest hit of training camp so far with a shot that was so hard, it knocked the helmet off of Matt Balasavage. Nearly every day of camp has seen Brown make a big play, whether an interception or a pass deflection. These kind of big plays can really stand out and Brown could potentially find himself as a practice squad player or even a backup, if he continues to play well.
LaQuan Williams was one of the feel-good stories last year as he went from an undrafted player during a difficult lockout period to the Ravens third-string receiver in a matter of months. Of course some of that had to do with a Lee Evans injury and the overall lack of depth that the Ravens had at wide receiver. Now Williams understands that not even a roster spot is guaranteed for this season and he'll have to prove his worth if he's to stay.
So far, Williams has been great during training camp. He is routinely making plays and Joe Flacco is frequently looking to get him the ball.
Williams' emergence could be enough to put him as the team's fourth-string receiver. Tandon Doss and Tommy Streeter could provide challenges, but so far Williams looks better than both. He can beat the odds by making the Ravens roster two years in a row and should be in line for a great preseason with lots of opportunities to make plays.
With key offensive linemen like Bryant McKinnie and Matt Birk being banged up, opportunity is arising for unlikely people. This includes undrafted rookie Jack Cornell, who amazingly is taking reps with the first team offense.
Kelechi Osemele is now healthier which will limit Cornell's starting opportunities. Starting was never realistic though, and Cornell will likely be lucky just to get a roster spot. So far he's displayed versatility by switching from guard to tackle and he's also shown a great ability to shadow defenders.
Cornell could be a welcome audition to the practice squad or possibly even as an active backup. This isn't bad for an undrafted player that didn't even get an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Tandon Doss was essentially a disappointment in his rookie season where he failed to tally a catch or any amount of playing time. However, he's picked things up this offseason by being present at offseason workouts and improving his speed.
Still, injuries continue to be the threat to Doss's ability to get on the field. His hamstring injury has forced him to miss some practice time during training camp. Doss really needs to get back on the field if he wants to seriously compete for the third or fourth string receiver spot.