As with every NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens have very few roster spots open for the 2009 season. There are going to be some interesting position battles for Baltimore this summer.
The Ravens, as has been well-documented, lost Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard and Marques Douglas to the New York Jets. Their roles must be filled by players brought in during free agency or via the draft held in April.
In addition to replacing those three veterans, Baltimore has backup jobs to fill on offense and defense.
One position battle that all Baltimore eyes will be on is at inside linebacker next to Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. This will be mostly between second-year players Tavares Gooden and Jameel McClain. Others that are in contention for the spot are special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo and rookie Jason Phillips.
However, the battle between Gooden and McClain will be at the forefront. Gooden is a third-round draft pick out of the University of Miami who played mostly on special teams in 2008 before ending his season on injured reserve.
McClain is an athletic linebacker who made the Ravens as an undrafted free agent. The former Syracuse linebacker recorded two safeties in 2008 and played very well when he was called upon by then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
The importance of the inside linebacker position that Scott played so skillfully is to keep blockers off of Lewis, Suggs and free safety Ed Reed. In the first two offseason camps that Baltimore has had, Gooden has run with the first-team defense.
With his weight gain and his speed, Gooden could very well win the starting job by no fault of McClain. McClain may be better suited as a pass-situation specialist and special teams player.
Another important battle for Baltimore’s defense is the one at strong safety. Largely an unnoticed battle, the spot was taken over by Leonhard last season after a spinal cord concussion to Dawan Landry in Week Three last season.
Landry looks to regain his status at starter, but he may have to compete with second-year safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. Baltimore generally looks for a hard-hitting strong safety which Landry is, but Zbikowski and Nakamura also do a great job of finding a ball-carrier and are capable of delivering vicious hits.
Landry should win the job back with Zbikowski and Nakamura contributing in dime packages and special teams.
Right tackle has been a trouble spot for the Ravens for a long time. In April, Baltimore traded up in the draft to get tackle Michael Oher. Oher was expected to compete with Willie Anderson for the starting job at right tackle, but Anderson retired in early May.
Now, Oher is running with the first-team offense, but could compete with Adam Terry once Terry recovers from his injuries.
Also, 2008 draft pick Oniel Cousins could be involved in the battle, but is probably more of a backup at this point in his young career. Oher could very well win the job because the Ravens coaching staff is very impressed with how quickly he has picked up the complex playbook.
In addition, Terry could be better suited as a backup because the Ravens may use him as primary backup at both tackle spots and don’t want the onus to fall on Oher to learn to positions.
The most important position that is expected to be in competition all summer is for the open kicker spot. Franchise kicker Matt Stover’s contract expired at the end of the 2008 season and the 41-year-old’s age had started to show.
John Harbaugh and his coaching staff seemingly want to use only one roster spot for kicker and kickoff specialist so they are holding a tryout between last season’s kickoff specialist Steven Hauschka and undrafted free agent Graham Gano.
Hauschka would appear to have to upper-hand, but has both made and missed field goals in practice, matching Gano’s performance. Replacing Stover won’t be easy because the veteran hit so many clutch field goals in his career and even carried the team through five games of the 2000 season.
Gano should win this competition, but Hauschka will hang tough and battle it out.
Who’s going to backup Joe Flacco? This may be the most difficult decision Harbaugh and his offensive staff has to make all offseason. Troy Smith was an adequate backup last season after getting healthy from a severe case of tonsillitis, but Baltimore went out and signed former Miami Dolphins quarterback John Beck.
Smith and Beck each have different attributes that could be beneficial to the Ravens offense. Smith is mobile and has worked in the “Suggs Package” with some degree of success.
Beck is more of a pure pocket passer with a strong arm. Beck and Smith may split time as the backup. This one will be fun to watch all season long.
Baltimore should be fun to watch all summer with their position battles. Ultimately, Harbaugh will make what he believes is the correct decision and pick the best 53-man roster and 45-man active gameday roster.