5 Things We Learned from Baltimore Ravens' OTAs
The month of May means OTAs, and that means the Baltimore Ravens took the field for the first time since their Super Bowl victory.
With so much turnover on the roster, OTAs took on added significance for the Ravens this year. A large draft class, along with numerous free agents, would get their first opportunity to gel with their new teammates.
Even returning players benefited from the practices, as offensive players learned the nuances of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell's system
Getting meaningful information from these practices is difficult, as they don't practice in pads. We can still get some information, though, based on the action on the field and the interviews off of it.
Jim Caldwell's Priorities
Jim Caldwell sounds a bit like a fan when he explains his priorities this season. As Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com reports, Caldwell is looking to improve early-down rushing and short passing, two areas that were popular areas of concern last season.
These certainly were areas of concern, as the Ravens were too predictable with their rushing attack. At times, they would completely forget about the run, while other series saw the Ravens run the ball every first down. Neither of these plans worked: The Ravens needed more variation.
Caldwell showed the play-calling ability necessary to find that variation, meaning the Ravens now need to focus on execution. They'll be looking to improve on their 4.2 yard average on first down last season, a number boosted by a number of long runs. Consistency will be key in this area.
Likewise, consistency will be crucial in addressing the Ravens' short-passing game. Joe Flacco's completion percentage has been below 60 percent each of the past two seasons, a number that has to change. The Ravens have never developed the short passing game to consistently pass the ball effectively, but that seems to be a priority of Caldwell's.
All in all, Caldwell is already off to a good start identifying and addressing the Ravens' offensive weaknesses. That should give fans optimism that the offense should at least approach its torrid pace from the 2012-2013 playoffs.
Courtney Upshaw Needs to Get Back in Shape
By and large, most of the news out of Ravens camp was positive, but one tidbit stuck out as being an issue. According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, Courtney Upshaw currently weighs 285 pounds and needs to get back in shape.
Courtney upshaw said he's working his way back into shape is up to 285 pounds he says he missed time working out due to 'personal issue'— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) June 2, 2013
He has plenty of time to do so, but for a second-year player fighting for a starting job, Upshaw hasn't started out making the best impression. The his personal issues that caused the weight gain are currently unknown, but this is not good news for the Ravens or Upshaw. He has a lot of work to do before he can get back to being a regular contributor at this point.
The Ravens Receivers Can Fly
Torrey Smith. Jacoby Jones. Deonte Thompson. All deep threats, and all likely to be big contributors in 2013.
We already know Smith and Jones are deep threats, as both made flashy plays on a regular basis last season. Thompson, though, was a relative unknown last season, garnering only a few snaps last season in mop-up duty.
This season, though, Thompson has a chance to play a big role, as Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports. His sub-4.3 40-yard dash ensures Thompson can take the top off a defense, but Jim Caldwell has also been complimentary of his improved routes as well.
If Thompson finds his way to the top of the Ravens' depth chart, the Ravens will have three guys who can fly. The matchup problems that would represent are tantalizing, making the Ravens' receiver concerns seem overblown.
Jimmy Smith Is Learning How to Be a Professional
Jimmy Smith has struggled the past two seasons, looking at times a step slow in both long speed and foot quickness. According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, Smith has lost ten pounds thanks to a difficult boxing regimen this offseason.
While the weight loss is good in itself, as it should help Smith with his conditioning, health and quickness, the display of professionalism is perhaps the most encouraging facet of this story. Smith's first two years in the league have been largely forgettable, so changing his regimen can only help.
While being in better shape won't be enough to guarantee a breakout season for Smith, he is certainly on track to finally show why the Ravens picked him up in the first round.
Dean Pees Is Feeling Pressure to Improve Defensively
Championship or not, the Ravens' defense finished 17th in the NFL last season. That is not supposed to happen in Baltimore, and Dean Pees is adamant that it cannot happen again.
Pees declared in the Ravens' OTA press conference (courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com):
We have to be better than we were a year ago, I’ll put it that way. I don’t know whether we will be, but we need to be.
Whether or not that's possible remains to be seen. The Ravens are younger and faster on defense, but they have yet to perform together as a unit. Pees will have his work cut out for him throughout the offseason to find the improvement he wants.