Breaking Down Baltimore Ravens' Biggest Training-Camp Projects
The Baltimore Ravens will have a veteran-heavy roster when the 2014 NFL season opens. They currently have 17 players on their roster who started 13 or more games last year. However, they'll also have several young players who will be projects when training camp opens.
Some of these players are projects because they are making a position switch or playing in a different scheme from what they played in college. Others are projects because they have no playing experience to this point, yet they are expected to take on a big role this year.
Here is a look at the Ravens' three biggest projects heading into training camp.
Offensive Lineman Ryan Jensen
Offensive tackle is arguably the thinnest position right now for the Ravens. After letting starting right tackle Michael Oher leave in free agency, Ricky Wagner was left as the only RT on the roster.
That led Baltimore to move backup center/guard to Ryan Jensen to RT to compete with Wagner for the starting RT spot. Jensen was selected by the Ravens in the sixth round (203rd overall) of the 2013 NFL draft.
As a rookie, Jensen made the 53-man roster, but he was inactive for all 16 games. With no playing experience to go with a position switch, Jensen is a big project heading into training camp.
Though he may not have any playing time under his belt, Jensen still has a great opportunity to earn playing time this year. He did well this offseason during organized team activities. Bo Smolka of CSN Baltimore has Jensen as a player who's stock is rising heading into training camp.
Jensen stayed on the active roster all season but saw no action as his season was curtailed by a preseason foot injury. This spring, Jensen worked at tackle and guard and can also play center. Showing that versatility this spring has been a huge plus.
Expect Jensen to challenge Wagner for the starting RT spot during training camp and the preseason. Even if he can't win it, Jensen looks like he'll at least be a backup who will be active for games this year, rather than being a game-day inactive like he was all of last year.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk
Vonta Leach had been the Ravens' starting fullback for the past three seasons. He helped pave the way for running back Ray Rice to rush for more than 2,500 yards from 2011-2012. Baltimore also ranked in the top 11 in rushing offense in each of those two seasons.
But Rice only rushed for 660 yards last year while the Baltimore rushing offense finished 30th in the NFL. That helped lead to Baltimore cutting Leach in hopes of finding a better option at FB.
That's where Kyle Juszczyk comes in. Baltimore selected Juszczyk in the fourth round (130th overall) in the 2013 NFL draft.
Even though the Ravens had Leach at FB, Juszczyk was able to earn playing time on special teams. Once the offseason came, the Ravens released Leach and now look set on making Juszczyk the primary FB in 2014.
Heading into training camp, Juszczyk is the only fullback on the roster. He's not a traditional FB like Leach was, though.
Juszczyk is more of an H-back that's becoming more popular in the NFL. That's because in today's pass-happy NFL, having a FB who can catch passes is becoming commonplace.
While playing college football at Harvard, Juszczyk caught 125 passes while showing his versatility to be a physical run-blocker and a capable pass-catcher.
"He stoned every linebacker in one-on-one blitzing drills at the Senior Bowl," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, via NFL.com. "His mentality: He can play fullback; he can play H-back. There's value."
Bo Smolka of CSN Baltimore believes Juszczyk's stock is rising ahead of training camp based on how he performed in OTAs.
Whether lined up wide, or in the slot, or in the backfield, the second-year fullback always seems to be involved. Gary Kubiak's offense has always had a spot for a hybrid fullback/H-back, and with Vonta Leach no longer around, Juszczyk figures to have a sizable role this year.
Juszczyk has a shot to earn a bigger role with Baltimore this year with a good showing in training camp.
Defensive Lineman Timmy Jernigan
The Ravens utilize a 3-4 defense that puts a lot of pressure on the nose tackle to control the interior of the line of scrimmage. For much of his career, Haloti Ngata has been one of the best in the game at doing that.
He's one of the best defensive lineman in the game. His combination of strength and explosiveness allows him to control the interior of the line of scrimmage and prevent running backs from being able to run it right up the middle of the Ravens defense.
But what makes Ngata special is his ability to also play defensive end and defensive tackle in Baltimore's 3-4 defense. From 2010-2012 Ngata started at DT and DE while registering 15.5 sacks and 58 QB hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required.)
The way in which I just described Ngata could be what Timmy Jernigan is at the NFL level. The Ravens selected the Florida State defensive lineman in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft.
The 6'2", 300-pound Jernigan notched 108 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss and six sacks over the past two seasons in college. He did so while starting at nose tackle, which is where Ngata is currently slated to start.
Jernigan has a world of potential, but he's a project entering training camp as Baltimore tries to figure out where to play him. In a sense, the entire Ravens defensive lien is a project entering training camp.
As stated before, Ngata has previous experience at DT and DE. If he plays there in 2014, that opens up a chance for Jernigan to start at the position he's played in college for the past two seasons.
But they could also move Jernigan to DT. There's a starting job open on the left side of the D-line with Arthur Jones having departed in free agency. Jernigan is in contention to play and potentially start there, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
There's a variety of combinations and players that could be used along the Ravens D-line this year. Jernigan will be one player who will probably get playing time at all three spots during training camp and in the preseason.