Training camp is finally here, which means that the 2013 NFL season is that much closer to starting. Camp is all about competition, as players are battling to grab their coach's attention and make their case for why they deserve a roster spot or an increased role on the team.
The Baltimore Ravens are faced with a number of questions before the season starts, and with so many departed veterans, there are a ton of openings on the depth chart.
Here are five of the less heralded Baltimore Ravens who could have a large impact in the upcoming year. Keep an eye on these players, as a good performance in training camp could go a long way to answering some of those roster questions.
Signing Daryl Smith was a very underrated move by Ozzie Newsome this summer. It could prove to be an extremely important addition given the uncertainty surrounding Jameel McClain's recovery from a spinal cord contusion.
Smith left the Jacksonville Jaguars as the franchise's all-time leading tackler, and he is very good against both the run and pass. He only played two games last season, but in 2011 he was the second-best outside linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He played outside linebacker in Jacksonville's 4-3 scheme, but he will be moving to inside linebacker in Baltimore's 3-4 defense. In training camp, the coaching staff will get a chance to evaluate his transition and understanding of the new defense.
If McClain misses games due to his injury, Daryl Smith will have to take over responsibilities as the quarterback of the defense. Training camp will be a good indicator of how well he's learned the new defensive scheme and how ready he is to lead the defense on the field.
The third-round pick is a player to monitor for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he has the potential to be a wrecking ball at the nose tackle position. While the defensive line is a crowded position group, if Brandon Williams has a good camp, he could become an integral part of the rotation as a run-stuffer with the quickness and strength to get to the quarterback.
It will also be interesting to see how the Division II product measures up once the pads are on, and how steep his learning curve is. A good camp could spell the end of Terrence Cody’s time as a Baltimore Raven, as the front office’s patience with him must be growing thin.
The Ravens are certainly hoping that one of them proves themselves worthy of being a Ravens nose tackle for the foreseeable future. This training camp is Williams' first shot at doing that.
As the third rookie being penciled in as a starter for the Baltimore Ravens, there is greater concern surrounding Kyle Juszczyk than the other two (Matt Elam and Arthur Brown Jr.).
Both Elam and Brown Jr. were first-team All-Americans at big-time college football programs. While they may experience growing pains, there are no questions about their ability to transition to the NFL. Juszczyk, on the other hand, will be closely examined to see if he is up to the task of being the lead blocker for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
The Harvard product was extremely productive for the Crimson, but he played as a tight end and H-back, so not only is he adjusting to the big stage but to a new position as well. Contract talks with Vonta Leach have slowed down, but if Juszczyk struggles as a blocker, the Ravens may be forced to bring Leach back.
Something else to watch for is whether Juszczyk gets the opportunity to play some tight end. After Dennis Pitta’s season-ending hip injury, there is a huge need for a No. 2 tight end, and Visanthe Shiancoe may not be the answer.
Juszczyk is a very good receiver, and the Ravens may try him out at tight end to see if he can fill the void.
If there is one position you need to monitor over training camp, it’s the wide receivers. One relatively unknown receiver who has a good chance at becoming the No. 2 or No. 3 wideout for the Baltimore Ravens is Deonte Thompson.
Thompson is the complete package, combining blazing speed with excellent route running and great hands. He was mighty impressive during last year's training camp, which earned him a spot on the roster, but this year he could be rewarded with a starting role.
Pitta’s injury places a lot of pressure on the No. 2 wide receiver to step up and be a large part of the offense. Thompson may end up being the guy to do that.
When I was planning this article, Ed Dickson was under the radar. He might not be anymore. Pitta’s injury means that Dickson is now the No. 1 tight end, and he will get a lot of passes thrown his way this season.
Dickson has shown that he is a capable receiver, recording 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. This is a totally different challenge, however, as Dickson will need to become one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets this year for the Ravens offense to have any chance of winning games.
In training camp, watch out for his chemistry with Flacco, his route running and whether his hands have improved. Dickson will need to step up in a giant way to salvage the Baltimore Ravens’ season.