6 Baltimore Ravens Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
The Baltimore Ravens still have more additions to make but for the team to truly bounce back from a disappointing season they need some of their young players to develop.
Based on the moves that have already occurred, it’s clear that some Ravens will have the opportunity to earn more playing time and even starting jobs by the time training camp rolls around, and this slideshow breaks down six players with opportunities to break out in 2014.
For some, like second-year players Arthur Brown, Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams, it is merely the next stage of their development as relatively high draft picks as they have a year of professional experience under their belts.
On the contrary, there are other players for whom this opportunity was not guaranteed. That is certainly true for former seventh-round pick DeAngelo Tyson, who has had to fight for his roster spot and will not see the fruits of his labor.
Make no mistake, however. These players will not be handed more snaps—that’s just not head coach John Harbaugh’s way. All they are guaranteed is the opportunity to prove themselves, and these six players will do just that by the end of the offseason.
Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk
It’s possible that the Ravens re-sign Vonta Leach like they did last summer, but they definitely want to see what they’ve got in Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-round pick last year.
The Harvard product isn’t your grandfather’s fullback—which is a good thing considering that not many teams use that type of player any more. In fact, he’s listed as a fullback but should realistically be an H-back or a “Swiss Army Knife” because of the versatility he could bring to the offense.
He talked with Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com about what is expected of him this year—both by the coaches and from himself:
[The coaches] all have the same idea that I’m really going to be a guy that can move around to a lot of different positions. I can be flexed out, I can be in the backfield when I need to be in short-yardage and goal-line situations. It’s a lot of what I expected to do last year but we never got to it. [Head Coach John Harbaugh] expects a lot and I expect a lot from myself as well. I’m excited to be more involved next year, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it works.
The only way that Juszczyk isn’t the starting fullback is if he struggles in run-blocking. Otherwise, he’s going to be a big part of the offense and has the talent to develop into one of the most unique weapons in the NFL as a Marcel Reece-type fullback that excels as a receiver all over the field.
Running Back: Bernard Pierce
One of the men Juszczyk will be blocking for is third-year running back Bernard Pierce. The third-round pick out of Temple had a good rookie year as the thunder to Ray Rice’s lightning, but he was slowed by injuries last year.
The good news is that his health concerns look to be a thing of the past, as he told Garrett Downing of the official team website that he is “definitely ahead of schedule” and is “definitely going to be ready for training camp.”
Unfortunately, the bad news is that the Ravens might have to count on him—at least for part of the season. Ray Rice’s inexcusable off-field actions have left his legal status and availability up in the air.
Regardless of what happens with his court case, Rice will probably receive a suspension because of the league’s conduct policy, via ESPN.com:
It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the League is based, and is lawful. Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime.
Pierce was poised to take on a larger role anyway because of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s emphasis on running the ball and his one-cut zone running scheme—a scheme that fits Pierce perfectly. But Pierce may potentially take over as the lead back—at least for however many games Rice is hypothetically suspended for.
Inside Linebacker: Arthur Brown
General manager Ozzie Newsome is known for trading back in drafts and accumulating more picks, but he went the other direction and traded up to select Arthur Brown in last year’s draft.
Despite that, Brown didn’t see the field very often in his rookie year—only 211 out of 1,098 possible snaps to be precise.
His limited snap count was for two primary reasons. For starters, he was adjusting to a new role after playing primarily as an outside linebacker at Kansas State—and doing so without the benefit of a full training camp thanks to a sports hernia-related surgery.
As Coach Harbaugh told Garrett Downing, “Art is a guy who’s learning a lot of football. He bounced [between defensive positions] a little bit in college. Understanding the complexity of defensive schemes in this league—at this level—is going to take him to a starting role.”
The other reason for Brown’s capped playing time was that he was too small coming out of college to really handle himself against the run—meaning that he played almost exclusively in nickel packages as a coverage linebacker.
After a year in Baltimore, however, both of those issues should be behind him. If that’s the case, his coverage skills, instincts and athleticism mean that he should be a permanent fixture alongside Daryl Smith in the middle of the Ravens defense.
Cornerback: Chykie Brown
Baltimore waved goodbye to the versatile and ever-useful Corey Graham for two reasons: money and Chykie Brown. We know the Ravens don’t like to overpay for anybody, but their decision to let Graham walk was made easier by the presence and development of Chykie Brown.
Even though he would be No. 3 on the depth chart, the role of a nickel corner is increasingly important in the league. Consequently, the Ravens are likely to bring in another defensive back to compete with Brown and Asa Jackson for the job, but Brown is the favorite.
He’s a very good athlete, but it’s the mental aspect of the game and his dedication to honing his craft that have him on the cusp of a breakout 2014 campaign. That work ethic earned him high praise from defensive coordinator Dean Pees last year, via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
Chykie has improved maybe as much as anybody on this football team in the last couple of years. I really think he’s come light years from where he was. Now he’s starting to look at the right things, playing more instinctively. Now his physical attributes that he has are starting to show off because his mental game has improved.
Brown has been called upon on multiple occasions in the past, and he’s delivered. The most recent occasion was when he prevented the Pittsburgh Steelers from completing a two-point conversion to save the game for the Ravens.
This year, he’ll have the chance to be an impact player each and every week on defense in addition to his normal special teams role.
Defensive Line: DeAngelo Tyson and Brandon Williams
These two players are listed together because they are both going to have opportunities to play along the defensive line thanks to the void left by the departed Arthur Jones.
DeAngelo Tyson is a more natural defensive end, so he’ll have first crack at that vacated starting spot. That’s a true testament to his work ethic and the Ravens coaching staff since it was only a seventh-round pick Ozzie Newsome spent on Tyson coming out of Georgia.
Tyson worked his way into the rotation last year, ending the year with 10 tackles, two sacks, one very athletic interception and one awesome sack dance.
His experience and athleticism mean he will definitely be a big contributor at the defensive end position, but he has the chance to lock down the starting job early in training camp.
The other big (literally) candidate is Brandon Williams, although his 6’1”, 335-pound frame mean he’s better suited as a nose tackle.
Nevertheless, Williams still possesses tremendous quickness to go along with his brute strength—making him a tantalizing player if he can put it all together.
Williams is going to get the backup snaps at nose tackle without Terrence Cody in the picture (although he may be re-signed), but Coach Harbaugh called him a “big part of our plan” to replace Arthur Jones, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com.
Both of them will be big parts of the defensive rotation this year and each player has a chance to do great things with their expanded role.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter.