5 Baltimore Ravens Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
Training camp will be particularly vital for the Baltimore Ravens this season. It is always an important part of preparing for the upcoming season, of course, but this year’s version of the Ravens boast a plethora of young players trying to get up to speed and the need to install a new offensive system.
A strong camp will go a long way to getting Baltimore back into the postseason, and these are five players who are likely to impress as we inch closer to the regular season.
Most of the list is made up of second-year players who are poised to make a sizable leap and become more reliable players with more prominent roles on the team.
These young players will need to put together a strong camp and preseason since the Ravens will be counting on their contributions in the regular season.
Kyle Juszczyk is sure to surprise because most football fans don’t even know who he is, let alone what to expect from him. We only saw him on the field with the offense for four snaps in his rookie season, and the Harvard product was never in the limelight in college as an H-back for an Ivy League school.
But the Ravens envisioned a jack-of-all-trades fullback when they drafted him in the fourth round, and this is the year that he’ll have the opportunity to strut his stuff on the gridiron.
It’s hard to predict how he’ll perform as a blocker, but his tape from Harvard shows a smooth athlete with soft, natural hands that can really run in open space.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has experience working with that type of player (James Casey) and is sure to test Juszczyk in training camp to see what he can handle. If all goes well, Juszczyk could become a much more significant cog in the offense than anybody expected.
The additions of Steve Smith Sr. and Owen Daniels (not to mention a full season from a healthy Dennis Pitta) should all have a major impact on the Ravens’ offensive output in 2014. With all the well-known names, former undrafted free agent Marlon Brown isn’t getting enough love, but there’s no reason to not expect a leap in his second year.
His numbers may not be as impressive because of the wealth of targets at Joe Flacco’s disposal, but Brown’s big frame means that he will once again be a force in the red zone, according to head coach John Harbaugh, via Jamison Hensley of ESPN:
He's a big, strong guy with body control and catch radius. Joe [Flacco] can put the ball around him, and he can make an adjustment and go make the catch, and that's really valuable in the red zone.
Brown struggled with some drops in OTAs (as did a number of other receivers), but if he can get past that, he will use an excellent training camp as a starting point for an improved 2014 season as a No. 3 receiver that can capitalize on the attention defenses pay to his teammates.
Arthur Brown may not dominate in training camp, but the early results indicate that he will validate the Ravens’ decision to trade up for him in the 2013 draft.
Earning a starting spot in the middle of the defense will be an uphill battle for Brown with Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley ahead of him on the depth chart. But a bulked-up Brown will be more effective against the run than he was last year—when the coaches wouldn’t even let him on the field unless it was a clear passing situation.
Members of the coaching staff have been impressed with Brown’s improved grasp of the defense in OTAs, and that bodes well for Brown to surprise everyone and earn a spot in the linebacker rotation as the Ravens shuffle between three athletic and instinctive middle linebackers.
It’s easy to understand why DeAngelo Tyson has fallen through the cracks this offseason. The former seventh-round pick has been a pleasant surprise, earning an important spot in the defensive line rotation last year.
But he hasn’t been mentioned nearly as often as Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan as potential replacements for Arthur Jones in the starting lineup. Part of that is because those two players have more talent and potential.
The other part is because Tyson doesn’t possess the “sex appeal” of those second- and third-rounders, but his experience and versatility means that he will play an important role for the Ravens this season.
Tyson talked to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com about the golden opportunity in front of him:
Now it’s time for someone else to step up. I look at free agency like seniors leaving in college, and then somebody young has to step up. I’m one of those young guys. I have to step up this year.
I’ve progressed pretty well and now I want to progress from Year Two to Year Three, and continue learning from the other guys. I’m just trying to stay consistent and show the coaches and players that they can trust me, and that I can do whatever they need to help the team win.
Tyson may not have the same type of upside as his young D-line compatriots, but he will be a big-time contributor in the rotation at the very least and stands a good chance of locking down a starting spot if his competitors aren’t yet ready for the prime time.
Matt Elam is primed for a breakout season, which may not come as a huge shock to Baltimore Ravens fans who have been paying attention. His training camp performance and subsequent regular-season performance are sure to be somewhat of a surprise for the rest of the league, however.
Elam was steady but unspectacular in his rookie season, but the shift to strong safety and a season to gain familiarity with the defensive scheme have the Florida product noticeably more confident and self-assured on the field.
Lardarius Webb has taken noticed based on his comments in one of his OTA media sessions, per Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
The person who is just really growing is Matt Elam. From last year to this year, I see a big jump with his leadership, with him controlling the back end and just being that safety, controlling the calls. I just really like where I see him going.
Elam has the tools to be a force as a versatile, in-the-box safety, and he’ll surprise a few folks with his rate of development when the pads come on in training camp.