Baltimore Ravens: What to Watch for at OTAs
Forget about championships: The Baltimore Ravens of 2013 are a whole new squad, and the world will get its first look at them when full-team OTAs start on May 22. With a new season comes new players, new schemes and ultimately new questions.
What should we expect from these Ravens at OTAs? What can we learn? Without pads, information will be hard to come by, but we fans and analysts can glean enough information to answer a few questions.
With this in mind, let's take a look at the questions that are hot on Ravens fans' minds as their team opens OTAs.
Who Will Be the Leaders?
No Ray Lewis. No Ed Reed. No Anquan Boldin. A popular story this season has been that without the veteran leadership these guys provided, the Ravens will have no one to turn to for leadership.
Those close to the franchise know this story is a non-starter. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs are just a few of the names who have already established clear leadership roles on the roster.
Suggs will be among the most vocal players at OTAs if he attends, inspiring the defense while provoking the offense. Flacco, meanwhile, will provide steady guidance for the offense while Rice provides more vocal leadership.
Also, don't be surprised if rookie Matt Elam steps into a leadership role early. The young safety was already displaying leadership traits in the Ravens' rookie OTAs, so don't be surprised if he keeps that going when the whole team gets together.
How Will the Ravens Replace Anquan Boldin's Production?
The Ravens will have to replace their leading receiver in Anquan Boldin, but they have the personnel to do it. Who will step up, though, remains to be seen.
The most likely candidates are already established stars. Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta should both increase their productivity through the air this season to help fill the void.
Beyond those two, several other Ravens will be vying for targets. Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss seem the most likely to be the starter opposite Torrey Smith. Watch these three as they compete for reps.
Which Joe Flacco Will Show Up?
Joe Flacco went on a magical run that resulted in a championship and a contract worth $120 million. But let's not forget, he also hasn't completed 60 percent of his passes in a season since 2010. His passer rating has broken 90 just once in his career. Flacco may have been fantastic in the playoffs, but he remains a question mark.
Don't get me wrong: Flacco is an above-average quarterback. He just has way too many games where he seems unable to complete even rudimentary passes.
Every year seems to be the one where Flacco will break out and become the consistent star the Ravens expect. With his magical playoff run, this may be the season where those predictions finally come true.
Who Will Be the Under-the-Radar Stars?
Every year, the Ravens see some young players step up during the offseason to eventually earn big roles on game days. With such a young Ravens roster this season, more than a few such players could emerge in 2013.
The first guy to come to mind is Deonte Thompson, a second-year wide receiver. He excelled in every opportunity afforded to him last season, from minicamps to playing on Sundays. Now, he has a real opening in the starting lineup within his sights.
Thompson's speed and body control make him an excellent deep threat who should make some highlight plays in OTAs.
Another player who comes to mind is Courtney Upshaw. Despite being the Ravens' top draft pick last season, Upshaw's role as a gritty run defender didn't earn him a lot of press. He is being taken for granted with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on board, but Upshaw developed well last season. He could show just how far he's come in OTAs this season.
Who Will Be Fighting for a Roster Spot?
For a lot of players, OTAs will be their first chance to prove that they even belong on the roster. The Ravens defense has a lot of depth right now, and some good players will fail to make the team. That makes the linebacker and cornerback positions especially worth watching early this offseason.
At cornerback, Asa Jackson, Marc Anthony and Chris Johnson will all compete to make the roster. Only one or two will make it, with Jackson perhaps having the best chance due to his blend of experience and upside.
Linebacker is even more interesting, as guys like Albert McClellan, Bryan Hall, Nigel Carr and Josh Bynes compete for a spot on the roster behind sure bets like Jameel McClain and Arthur Brown.
McClellan should be safe, but Hall, Carr and Bynes are all right on the bubble. Only one is likely to make the final roster, with Bynes having the best shot.
How Do the Rookies Look?
The question weighing on most minds will be how the rookies look. The Ravens could start as many as three rookies on opening day, so this draft class will take on a special importance.
Fortunately, the rookies should look good right off the bat. Arthur Brown and Matt Elam are fluid athletes who should play as well in shorts as they did in pads. They will perform well in coverage and pursuit drills.
Brandon Williams will stand out as well, albeit for different reasons. By virtue of his sheer size, Williams stands out wherever he goes. He will be sure to stand out both on and off the practice field in these OTAs.
Finally, the Ravens will be looking for some breakthrough performers.
Ricky Wagner has a chance to become a top backup at offensive line with a solid offseason, while Kyle Juszczyk has a chance to earn reps all over the offense. All of the rookies have a shot to stand out, but Wagner and Juszczyk look most likely to do so immediately.
What New Wrinkles Can We Expect from the Offense?
Jim Caldwell may have replaced Cam Cameron last season as offensive coordinator, but the scheme was still Cameron's. With such little time to implement changes, Caldwell was forced to stick with the current playbook. With a full offseason to work with, though, he could add some unexpected wrinkles to the Ravens' otherwise vanilla offense.
What exactly Caldwell will change remains to be seen, but based off his play-calling, I'd expect a vertical passing attack predicated on play-action passing. With so many underneath weapons, though, Caldwell could also start to really develop the Ravens' short-passing game.
Whatever he does, expect some minor tweaks from the Ravens' base offense from years past. Caldwell will want to put his own mark on this offense, and that should only mean even further improvement.
What Have the New Coaching Additions Brought to the Table?
The Ravens added a couple of big-name coaches this offseason, including Juan Castillo to help with the run game and Steve Spagnuolo as a defensive assistant.
The Ravens rushing attack was excellent last year, but there remains room for improvement. With a two-headed monster like Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce provide, there is no reason that the Ravens should not lead the NFL in rushing. Castillo is a guru in dealing with the offensive line, so he should help the Ravens' blockers pave the way for an all-time great rushing attack in 2013.
Spagnuolo, meanwhile, is a defensive mastermind who excels at getting the most out of top pass-rushers. With Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs to work with, Spagnuolo should help the Ravens defense provide some serious pressure this season.
All in all, these were two great hires that should pay big dividends. We'll get to see these coaches' inputs immediately in OTAs.
Are the New Additions Meshing Well?
Outside of the rookies, the most interesting players on the field at OTAs could be the free-agent additions. Guys like Michael Huff, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Elvis Dumervil will all look to show that they are worthy of the contracts and are good fits in Baltimore.
Dumervil could provide an instant pass-rushing boost, and some chemistry with Terrell Suggs would make the tandem that much more terrifying. Canty is in a similar situation, needing to show synergy with his front-seven teammates.
Huff, meanwhile, could form a great safety tandem with first-round draft pick Matt Elam. If the two get off on the right foot, the Ravens safety position could be set for years.
The greatest part of the offseason is seeing all the new acquisitions in their new uniforms. Watching the free agents adapt to their new surroundings is certainly something to look out for during these minicamps.