Biggest Areas of Concern for Baltimore Ravens Heading into Training Camp
The Baltimore Ravens are inching closer to the start of training camp. With it comes the opportunity to get the bad taste of the 2013 season out of their mouths and focus on making sure 2014 doesn't end the same way.
Entering Week 16 of the 2013 NFL season, Baltimore was 8-6 and on the think of the NFL playoff picture. As it turned out, they needed to win just one more game to get into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, they lost their final two games and missed the playoffs, the first time they've done so since John Harbaugh became their head coach in 2008.
There were a lot of contributing factors that went into Baltimore's struggle, and while several of them have been fixed this offseason, some of those same issues remain heading into training camp.
Here's a look at the three biggest questions facing Baltimore with the start of training camp approaching.
How Long Is Ray Rice Suspended For?
Amazingly, the Ravens still don't know if running back Ray Rice will be suspended or how long his suspension could be. Rice allegedly struck his then-fiance in an incident at a casino earlier this offseason, and the belief has been Rice would be suspended multiple games by the NFL as punishment for it.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports Rice has visited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the league offices, meaning he could learn of his fate soon.
Eventually, discipline will be imposed, most likely in the form of a suspension. ... In the end, a multi-game ban should be the assumption. Anything less than that would be a surprise, especially since the NFL has been making a conscious effort in recent years to increase its concentration of female fans.
Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun believes Rice's suspension could be for three games. If that's the case. Rice will miss three AFC North games.
He'd be out Week 1 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, Week 2 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers and week 3 vs. the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore went 3-3 last year against those teams, so having Rice when facing them would be ideal, but it looks like Baltimore may be without him.
Not to mention Baltimore needs to figure out quickly if Rice is still capable of being their featured back. He's coming off the worst season of his career, rushing for just 660 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games last season.
In 2012, Rice rushed for 1,143 yards on 257 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and scored nine touchdowns while helping Baltimore win the Super Bowl.
Is the 2012 Ray Rice what Baltimore will get this year, or will it be the watered-down 2013 version?
Baltimore won't know until he's back on the field in the regular season, and as of now, they don't even know when he'll be able to play.
Who Steps Up at Cornerback?
Arguably the thinnest position on the Ravens roster right now is at cornerback. Baltimore let starter Corey Graham walk in free agency, leaving Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown as the only three corners who played any last year.
Webb and Smith were too solid starters, but Brown played only 39 snaps in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Baltimore later signed Dominique Franks and Aaron Ross, two veterans with plenty of experience, but they have been irrelevant in recent years.
Ross has 11 career interceptions and 41 passes defended and was with the New York Giants last year, but he was placed on injured reserve in October due to a back injury. He has just one interception and eight pass defenses in the past two years.
Franks has just three career interceptions and nine pass defenses in four NFL seasons. He has four career starts in four seasons, and he played as a seldom-used backup in 2013 for the Atlanta Falcons.
As of now, Webb, Smith, Brown, Ross and Franks project as Baltimore's top five cornerbacks. It's hard to see that group getting it done in 2014.
There's just not enough depth there to make the Ravens feel comfortable heading into training camp.
Who Starts at Right Tackle?
Baltimore had one of the NFL's worst offensive lines in 2013. That unit allowed 48 sacks in 2013, which was tied with the Buffalo Bills for the fourth-most allowed. Having a hole at right tackle isn't helping improve matters.
That's because Michael Oher left in free agency to sign with the Tennessee Titans, leaving Baltimore without their starting right tackle of the past four years.
Making matters worse is the Ravens didn't take a tackle in the NFL draft, meaning second-year tackle Ricky Wagner is projected to be the starting right tackle.
Wagner played a grand total of 131 snaps in '13 per Pro Football Focus, and he's done nothing to suggest he's ready to start 16 games.
There's also no real depth behind him. David Mims is a career backup who's never registered an offensive snap. Ryan Jensen is a converted guard who's also competing for the starting RT spot.
During OTAs, it was Wagner who got the first-team reps at RT, and he impressed new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak (via BaltimoreRavens.com):
“To me, Ricky has been – I don’t want to say he’s a surprise, because I expected him to play well – but I think we put a lot on his plate early walking in here as a starter, new scheme and those types of things,” Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak said last week.
“He has responded and hasn’t missed a rep. He plays very hard in what we’re doing, so we just have to keep going. But I’ve been very pleased with Ricky.”
Wagner is the favorite to start at RT heading into training camp, but with not much experience and no proven depth behind him, this position is a huge area of concern as of now.