Baltimore Ravens Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
With so many veterans leaving during the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens are making it clear that they want to get younger at most of their key positions. Only seven players on the current roster are 30 years old or older; of those seven, only Michael Huff, Terrell Suggs, Bryant McKinnie and Vonta Leach have serious starting aspirations.
Ten new rookies were added in the 2013 NFL draft. Most likely not all of them will make the roster with some of them destined for the practice squad or to get cut late in August.
This draft class was regarded as a deep one, though, so the possibility exists that there is a late-round gem. Meanwhile, the first three picks have at the potential to grab starting jobs this season, which should put veterans on notice.
Ozzie Newsome has made it clear that even the positive memories of a Super Bowl win will not influence what the team decides to do with a player. Here's a look at six veterans who have reason to worry for their jobs and their future as a Baltimore Raven.
1. James Ihedigbo
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Back in March when Bernard Pollard was shockingly released, I remember seeing at the same time that James Ihedigbo had been re-signed. At the time it made perfect sense. Ihedigbo's numbers actually aren't all that much worse than Pollard's, so it seemed probable that this journeyman safety could slide in as the starting strong safety without too much competition.
Not so fast, though. Michael Huff has now arrived as the likely starting free safety via free agency, while Matt Elam was taken with the final pick in the first round.
Elam will probably be trained to play both strong safety and free safety. Still, the truth remains that with Ed Reed gone, Huff is the most accomplished safety on the roster and should be considered a definite starter.
If Huff's the best safety now, Elam is the one with the highest upside. That should scare Ihedigbo, who only started three games last season and mostly just functioned as the backup to Pollard. Back in March, he looked like a sure thing, but now it looks like Ihedigbo could be back to being the odd one out.
2. Michael Oher
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Although the Ravens needed to draft a left tackle, they didn't end up doing so until the fifth round. Ricky Wagner was a good pick, but unless he has an outstanding training camp, it's basically impossible that he will see starting reps at the tackle position.
That means the Ravens will likely see another year with Michael Oher and the newly re-signed Bryant McKinnie starting at the tackle positions. Both players seem to have a firm grasp on their starting jobs—although a lot could change between now and September.
Oher in particular has shown that he just can't play left tackle. He struggled there during a difficult 2010 season where the enduring memory of his play was allowing a huge sack-strip by Troy Polamalu in a crucial divisional game.
At right tackle in the 2012 playoffs, Oher had one of the best stretches of his career, allowing just one sack and six quarterback hurries during the playoffs. It's also notable that in the postseason we didn't see too many ugly false starts or unnecessary roughness penalties from Oher.
The sad fact is that the best offensive linemen are the ones who get no attention. Allowing sacks and having dumb penalties will bring Oher attention, and as unthinkable as it sounds, could send him out of Baltimore.
Any movement with Oher will likely be delayed to the 2014 offseason, which is when he's scheduled to hit free agency. With that in mind, this is a big year for Oher, who needs to show that he can be the long-term answer at right tackle. Otherwise, even with his status as a first-round pick, his days in Baltimore could be done.
3. Vonta Leach
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Normally, a three-time Pro Bowler who is widely regarded as one of the best players at his position would feel very confident in keeping his roster spot. Unfortunately for Vonta Leach, that is no longer the case, and it really has nothing to do with anything he can control.
The fullback position is dying in the NFL largely thanks to the pass-happy offenses that are now essential for a team to be successful. Very few teams even have pure fullbacks who are in there blocking during the majority of their team's offensive snaps.
Unfortunately, that's what Leach does, and while he is amazing at it, that is essentially his only talent. True, you'll occasionally see him catch a dump-off pass or plunge up the middle for a yard, but realistically, he's just not a very athletic player.
This is where rookie Kyle Juszczyk comes in. The fourth-round draft pick is one of those H-back fullbacks similar to what James Casey was in Houston. He can line up at tight end, fullback or halfback and offers an element of versatility that the Ravens wouldn't get with Leach.
The future of the fullback will have to involve players who can contribute in the passing game as well. Juszczyk's signing could very well signify the end for Leach, next season or maybe even this season.
It's a shame since Leach is a hard worker who gives his all every play. No fullback is worth the $4.33 million cap hit Leach will take this season, though, and the Ravens would honestly be better off spending that money elsewhere.
4. Jameel McClain
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The stability that Ray Lewis provided at the middle linebacker position for 17 seasons is something that the Ravens had basically taken for granted. Only now with Lewis out of the game, they are seeing how difficult it could be to replace him.
Right now, it looks like three linebackers have serious aspirations to start at middle linebacker.
Oakland reject Rolando McClain and second-round pick Arthur Brown have starting potential, though McClain's trouble with the law could ultimately jeopardize his hopes of becoming a starter.
Then there's Jameel McClain, an undrafted player who quietly started the better part of three straight seasons alongside Lewis.
McClain ultimately missed the Super Bowl run after suffering a spinal cord contusion that landed him on injured reserve. Yet with Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe both gone from the Ravens, it would stand to reason that McClain has a great shot at retaining a starting role.
The main trouble that could derail McClain's ambitions to start is his recovery from his spinal injury.
Brown was drafted to start and he should unless he has a rough time adjusting to the game. McClain should also look out for wild cards like Josh Bynes and John Simon who could potentially seize the starting jobs should any potential starters falter.
While McClain's a solid starter, he hasn't proved to be anything too special yet. The upside that a younger player like Brown or Simon has could be enough to overtake McClain on the depth chart.
McClain does have the motivation of sitting while his team won the Super Bowl, so maybe he can channel that to make him come back bigger and better than ever.
5. Bryant McKinnie
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Although Bryant McKinnie is back with the Ravens again, it's really hard to believe that he feels good about his long-term future with the team.
Despite his great performance at left tackle during the Super Bowl run, the Ravens waited nearly two months after free agency began to sign him. They likely would have waited longer had it not been for the fact that other teams were starting to show interest.
McKinnie has frequently been in John Harbaugh's doghouse, thanks to issues with his weight and his work ethic. It's almost a certainty that he'll steer clear of most offseason workouts in Baltimore and instead show up overweight and out of shape.
When in shape, though, McKinnie is still a very good left tackle. It's clear that the Ravens believe him to be better than any of the alternatives, and they are willing to put up with his craziness in order to get that.
McKinnie better not wear out his welcome, though. At 33 years old, his NFL career is probably in its latter stages, and any sort of decrease in production could lead to him being shown the door or the dark recesses of Harbaugh's doghouse.
6. Terrence Cody
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Even though he is currently listed as the starter at nose tackle, it seems that no one believes Terrence Cody will hold down the starting job after his lack of production last season.
Mt. Cody hasn't lived up to his nickname and instead has become the rare huge defensive lineman who is constantly pushed around at the line of scrimmage.
Cody's best season came back in 2011 where he started every game and made 34 tackles. 2012 was clearly a step back, though, as Cody only started three games and saw his numbers decrease in every major category.
Three years into his NFL career, he still does not have a sack or a forced fumble.
The picture is a little murky on who could replace Cody. Rookie Brandon Williams could press Cody for playing time, while Chris Canty does have nose tackle experience as well, even though he is currently slated to play at defensive end.
The point is that if Cody struggles again, the Ravens will not be likely to give him yet another chance. There are players who could step up and play better at the nose tackle position. Cody will need to improve, or else it's possible that he could even find himself getting cut from the roster.