Baltimore Ravens: 6 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs
Eighty-seven Baltimore Ravens put on their helmets (but not their pads) to begin their climb back to the playoffs. We’re still a long way from real football, but these practices are crucial for a team trying to install a completely new offense. They also give us an idea of which players are ahead of the curve—which is what this slideshow is all about.
Which players look like they’re ready to play a bigger role this season?
For a player like Kelechi Osemele, it’s just about returning from injury and getting in the best shape possible to return to the mauling form of old.
Then there are the new additions that are impressing the coaching staff and should be important cogs despite their lack of experience playing with their new teammates.
It’s early and far too premature to make any grandiose statements about any of these six players and what to expect from them this season, but these are the players that have made the most of their first week of practice.
The value of the center position was made clear at the beginning of last season, as the offensive line was miserable for all of the 2013 season.
Changes were made as the season progressed, but the O-line for Week 1 was the same as the one that rolled to the Super Bowl just seven months earlier. The only difference was Gino Gradkowski stepping into Matt Birk’s shoes in the middle of the trenches.
That experiment did not work out, and general manager Ozzie Newsome traded for Jeremy Zuttah so he could take over as the starter.
It’s still incredibly early and it’s basically touch football—which doesn’t exactly translate to what will happen on Sundays—but Zuttah has impressed his new coaches with an early grasp of the blocking scheme.
Head coach John Harbaugh repeatedly mentioned Zuttah’s intelligence after Thursday’s OTAs, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com. "Jeremy Zuttah is doing a great job. He’s smart—really smart, really mature [and] goes about his business in a mature way. I’m just very impressed with how smart he is."
Zuttah hasn’t had the opportunity to impress physically, but his intelligence is a great sign considering that his role will be to make calls at the line of scrimmage and read defenses.
Hopefully that will lead to an O-line that looks more aware of its assignments, which in turn should lead to a more productive rushing game and a quarterback that takes fewer hits.
Zuttah is expected to win the starting job, but the early signs point to him being a good anchor in the middle of the line.
Ryan Jensen is truly a player with a rising stock because it wasn’t that high to begin with. The sixth-round draft pick missed all of last year with an injury, but the coaching staff thought highly enough of him to keep him on the active roster instead of placing him on injured reserve.
Originally slated to compete for the center job and provide depth at guard, Jensen has been given reps at right tackle in OTAs—and he’s done very well.
It’s not a huge adjustment for Jensen since he played tackle in college. As he told Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com, “tackle is a natural position for me. It felt good to get back to being in my position where I played in college. I was excited to get to work.”
Even if Jensen doesn’t win the position battle, his stock is still soaring through the roof because of his tremendous versatility.
The coaching staff feels he can play all five positions on the line—an extremely valuable skill. Jensen is young and still making the adjustment from playing at a small college, but his talent and intelligence have already endeared him to the coaching staff, which bodes very well for his long-term potential in the Ravens system.
Justin Forsett took the majority of the first-team reps, but you shouldn’t read too much into that. In all likelihood that was another reminder to Ray Rice and Lorenzo Taliaferro that their off-field behavior will not be tolerated.
What you should read into, however, is that Forsett was catching the eyes of everyone in attendance. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley explains why:
The running back who drew the most attention was Justin Forsett. The veteran journeyman is extremely small, but extremely fast. He displayed good hands in catching passes out of the backfield and turned upfield in a hurry.
His speed and hands make him an intriguing third-down option for Joe Flacco, and his speed is a trait that none of his peers possess. You have to like the diversity in the Ravens backfield, but Forsett is making his case for a bigger role in the offense.
His familiarity with coach Gary Kubiak’s offense was one of the reasons he was signed, but he is clearly capable of having an impact on the field.
Rookies are supposed to be overwhelmed. They’re supposed to have a difficult time adjusting to the physicality and speed of the NFL. They’re supposed to struggle learning the playbook. They’re supposed to be treading water, desperately trying to stay afloat.
They’re not supposed to look like a seasoned vet, barking out commands and making pre-snap calls. But that’s what C.J. Mosley has done throughout rookie minicamp and OTAs.
Ravens VP of Public Relations Kevin Byrne spent some time watching the on-field activities and had this to say about Mosley, per BaltimoreRavens.com:
No. 1 choice C.J. Mosley, lining up at inside linebacker, looks like he has been a Raven for a lot longer than a few weeks. He has the countenance of a long-time veteran. He calls defensive signals with confidence. ... And, he can run. He's going to be fun to watch over the years.
Coach Harbaugh echoed those sentiments after rookie minicamp, via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
Probably the first impression is that he seems very comfortable in a defense. He understands the game very well. So, he’s been really well-coached, obviously, down [at Alabama].
Mosley is running with the second team at the moment—a testament to Coach Harbaugh’s philosophy of making young players earn their place—but it would be shocking if he didn’t take over the starting reins at some point.
Mosley’s stock arrow has been firmly pointing upward since he got to Baltimore, and while it’s early, it looks like Newsome made the right move by drafting him instead of addressing a more glaring need like free safety.
Steve Smith Sr.
Steve Smith Sr. has built a Hall of Fame-caliber resume, so it seems strange to single him out as a player with a rising stock. But there were legitimate questions about what he would bring to Baltimore considering his age and an underwhelming (by his standards) 2013 season.
But his stock is definitely up because of what he’ll bring the Ravens both on and off the field.
On the gridiron, he’s still flashing the speed we’re used to seeing along with those strong and reliable hands. Kevin Byrne put his skill set in perspective by comparing him to some former Ravens receivers:
Receiver Steve Smith, Sr. is uncanny. He flies around, and his hands are remarkable. He snatches any pass near him. You can see why he has had such huge success. He attacks the ball. Combine Anquan Boldin's hands and Derrick Mason's quickness, and I think you might have Steve Smith, Sr.
Likewise, Coach Harbaugh singled out a specific trait that makes Smith so special, per Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
He’s one of the best receivers ever at going back and getting a football. He can chase and out-run a defender to the ball, so it’s a little thing, but it’s a pretty important trait for a wide receiver.
Smith will definitely contribute as a chain-mover, but it is his experience and leadership that will be so valuable. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley provided this behind-the-scenes nugget on Smith’s importance to his fellow receivers:
In between drills, Smith worked with Marlon Brown and showed him how to run some routes better. That experienced presence will be a strong influence on what is still a young wide receiver group.
Smith is also making the cornerbacks better, according to Lardarius Webb, via Ryan Mink:
The guy is as strong as an ox, and that helps me out, to get prepared for the season. He runs great routes and he’s making me better, and I’m making him better, too, because I’m challenging him, just like he’s challenging me.
Smith is going to develop into one of Flacco’s safety valves, but what he’ll do off the field is just as important.
The aforementioned Jeremy Zuttah is the only new player Newsome brought in to fix the O-line. Eugene Monroe and Marshal Yanda are Pro Bowl-caliber players at their position, and the right tackle position is still in flux.
But the lack of personnel moves (relative to the House of Horrors that was the 2013 line) is because the Ravens were waiting to see what they’ll get from Kelechi Osemele.
There were Pro Bowl expectations (from himself and from the coaching staff) for the second-round pick last year, but a back injury hampered him on the field and eventually ended his season.
After one session of OTAs, things are looking good for the Iowa State product.
Talent and physical tools were never in question—only his health. And health doesn’t look like a question mark anymore.
Jamison Hensley of ESPN reveals just how impressive Osemele was:
Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was the most impressive player on the field. There is no contact in offseason practices, but Osemele jumped out because he showed intensity in every drill. Even coach John Harbaugh pointed out how Osemele was running from drill to drill. After missing the last nine games with a back injury, Osemele seemed like he was letting everyone know that he's at full strength.
With a bill of clean health, Osemele should give the Ravens a huge boost in the running game and make the O-line a more physically imposing bunch.
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.