The 7 Biggest Issues Facing Baltimore Ravens with OTAs Wrapped
Another step in the offseason grind is behind the Baltimore Ravens as they wrap up OTAs and prepare for minicamp.
At this point, rookies should be feeling slightly more comfortable with the playbooks, the offense should be more familiar with the offense and every player should be in better shape than he was at the start.
Overall, this team should be one step closer toward suiting up for real, but there are still a number of issues that general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh need to figure out.
This slideshow presents those pressing matters to you in ascending order of importance (i.e. from lowest to highest priority).
These are the dominoes that have yet to fall in the Ravens’ offseason plan.
Which Cap Casualties/Free Agents Will the Ravens Pursue?
Ozzie Newsome has made the majority of his personnel moves already, but he’s always willing to add more talent if it becomes available at the right price. Coach Harbaugh made it clear that the roster tinkering isn’t done in one of his OTA press conferences:
We’re going to try and get better. We had a conversation, Ozzie [Newsome] and I today, and I like to think on principle that we really believe this: We want to build as strong of a 53-man roster as we possibly can, and as we do that, try to get stronger every chance we can get. We’ll be looking.
The question is: Who’s out there? As training camp develops, there are sure to be some cap casualties, and the Ravens will be watching the waiver wire very closely—particularly for players who can contribute in positions of need if the current Ravens don’t stack up.
Of course, Baltimore isn’t only going to be focused on positions of need. If the Ravens can find the “right player, right price,” history tells us they have no hesitation pulling the trigger.
This is an interesting situation to monitor since we have no idea who could be available over the next couple of months.
Which Young Defensive Linemen Step Up?
This isn’t low on the totem pole because of the position. On the contrary, finding a suitable replacement for Arthur Jones—the team’s most consistent D-lineman in 2013—is of supreme consequence.
It’s just not a “pressing” issue because—fortunately for the Ravens—there is a well-stocked larder of talented, young linemen vying for playing time, and all of them have shown enough to make us optimistic about the line.
DeAngelo Tyson is probably the “favorite” since he has the most playing experience, but Brandon Williams, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Timmy Jernigan have all been impressive in OTAs and should at least be members of the rotation along the line.
The position still needs to sort itself out, but the Ravens have to be feeling pretty good about the depth of their line this season.
Incorporating All the New Pieces
This isn’t something the Ravens need to panic about; it’s just a matter of time. There are plenty of new faces on the roster between the rookies (both drafted and undrafted) and the free-agent signings, and the Ravens need contributions from both groups.
From the rookies, C.J. Mosley looks like a lock to start at inside linebacker, but getting Timmy Jernigan and Terrence Brooks up to speed quickly would go a long way to helping them see the field early and often in their rookie seasons.
The bigger impact will be made by the savvy vets—players such as Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Those two figure to be prominent targets for Joe Flacco, and they’ll have to continue building that chemistry.
There is one more new piece—quite a big one actually—and that’s offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Kubiak’s wizardry when it comes to calling plays is well-established, but installing a new system takes time and dedication.
It’s not a finished product yet, and that’s understandable. It’s just the goal for the offense over the remainder of training camp and preseason.
Extending Torrey and Jimmy Smith
This is a more pressing issue than you might think because the Ravens don’t want to risk losing either of the Smiths in free agency. Thanks to the fifth-year option (available only for first-round picks), Baltimore will at least have Jimmy Smith through the 2015 season, but given the escalating market value of cornerbacks it would behoove the team to get him locked up long term a year early if possible.
Especially because the Ravens currently have the bargaining power of only one (really less than that) season of high-quality play. Right now, the Ravens are the team that values Jimmy Smith the most. That might not be the case after another season of shutting down prime-time receivers.
As I said, however, the Ravens at least have an extra year to hash out a long-term deal with the cornerback Smith.
Time is of the essence when it comes to Torrey Smith. Much hoopla has been made about how this is the best receiving corps Joe Flacco has ever had. On paper, that’s true—for this season.
What happens if Torrey Smith leaves Baltimore next offseason? Then you’re looking at a 36-year-old Steve Smith Sr. as your No. 1 option, Dennis Pitta and…who else exactly?
We know the Ravens won’t overpay for anyone, but they’re in a terrible situation if they lose Torrey Smith—especially since they don’t have a stud receiver waiting in the wings (although Marlon Brown could possibly turn into that).
Locking up the Smiths has to be a priority for Ozzie Newsome for the long-term viability of this team.
What Kind of Pass Rush Will the Ravens Get?
You need talented sack artists to get after the quarterback. Sure, you can accumulate a few sacks by excellent play-calling and keeping the opposing quarterback on his toes, but ultimately you need players who can consistently win one-on-one battles in the trenches and wreak havoc in the backfield.
The only Ravens who fit the bill in that regard are Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. I don’t know what to make of it.
Examining the long-term plan, the lack of promising young pass-rushers on the team is somewhat startling, but Newsome can address that in the coming drafts. But what about for 2014?
Honestly, it’s unclear what to expect from two past-their-prime pass-rushers on the wrong side of 30. The 2013 pass rush was a serious case of Jekyll and Hyde, with the duo bursting onto the scene in dominant fashion for the first half of the season and then fading into obscurity for the latter half.
Which version of Suggs and Dumervil shows up? With no other pass-rushers on the team, BOTH of them need to be spectacular pass-rushers, and their performance will dictate the success of the Ravens defense.
The Ravens are sure to be looking at pass-rushing specialists who become available, but all their energy needs to be focused on making sure Suggs and Dumervil are successful.
Sorting Out the Situation at Right Tackle
These last two issues are both extremely important, but I’m starting with right tackle because at least the rest of the O-line is in pretty good shape. The foursome of Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele (now healthy), Jeremy Zuttah and Marshal Yanda should be able to compensate for average production out of the right tackle.
But if the Ravens want to be an elite offense, they can’t afford to have a weak link in the chain up front. Sifting through the right tackle competition and finding a definitive starter will be a major part of the offseason.
Right now, it appears to be a full-out brawl between Ricky Wagner and Ryan Jensen (with James Hurst possibly being a factor). Hopefully one of them separates from the rest of the pack.
But there is also a strong possibility that this is a position Ozzie Newsome chooses to address via free agency. After all, all of those players were Day 3 draft picks (Hurst wasn’t even drafted), so expecting them to be great NFL starters is unrealistic.
How Does the Secondary Come Together?
The Ravens have three studs in their secondary and then a ton of holes and unproven players. Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have the talent to be one of the league’s best duos, and Matt Elam has drawn rave reviews for his improvement this offseason.
But there is a sizeable drop-off after that.
Terrence Brooks is a starting-caliber player at free safety in the long run, but is he ready to shoulder that load in his rookie season? If he can’t step up, who do the Ravens turn to? Darian Stewart and Omar Brown don’t compare to Brooks in terms of raw talent and athleticism, and both of them figure to be below-average starters at the position.
On top of that, the Ravens nickel corner is still undecided, with the battle coming down to Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson (and any UDFA who is impressive enough).
We don’t know what to expect from those players, and that’s a concern in a league where your No. 3 cornerback can get a starter’s reps in many matchups.
The front seven would appear to be a strength for the Ravens, but that secondary has too many question marks to make any bold claims about this defense.
With a couple of spots left to fill, the secondary is the biggest concern the Ravens have to face for the remainder of the offseason.