Predicting the Winner of Baltimore Ravens' Biggest Training Camp Battles
Football is in the air.
During that time, several position battles will be fought. Starting opportunities and even roster spots will be fought for and either won or lost.
Every team has such battles, and the Ravens are no different. With a little over a month until the start of the regular season, Baltimore has several battles that need to have a clear winner, preferably by the end of training camp.
Here is a look at the three biggest battles and who I believe will win them.
Starting Right Tackle
Baltimore lost starting right tackle Michael Oher to the Tennessee Titans this offseason. That left Ricky Wagner to assume the starting role.
Wagner didn't do much to inspire confidence in him as a rookie in 2013. He allowed three sacks in just 131 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Regardless, Wagner managed to impress head coach John Harbaugh during Ravens OTAs and looks to be the favorite to be the starting right tackle in training camp.
Via BaltimoreRavens.com, Harbaugh said:
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. 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.
Over the course of the offseason, Baltimore has done little to provide Wagner with a legitimate challenger for the right tackle spot. It signed James Hurst as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina. Ryan Jensen was also moved from offensive guard to tackle.
Regardless, Wagner is still the favorite to win the starting spot, and frankly, it's his to lose.
Predicted Winner: Ricky Wagner
This is Wagner's job to lose, and I believe he'll do enough to secure it during training camp.
Starting Defensive Tackle
One of the Ravens' biggest losses this offseason came when defensive tackle Arthur Jones left to sign with the Indianapolis Colts. That left a big void along the Ravens defensive line in their 3-4 defense.
The good news is that there are several viable candidates to replace him.
The early favorite to win the starting job is Brandon Williams. He was the next man in line on the depth chart when Williams left. However, he played just 93 snaps last year as a rookie third-round pick, according to Pro Football Focus.
Williams is an unproven commodity, but so too is DeAngelo Tyson. Though he played defensive end in his first two NFL seasons, Tyson could be moved to defensive tackle this year to provide more depth at that position. He played 153 snaps last year at defensive end, per Pro Football Focus. Look for him and Williams to duke it out for the starting defensive tackle spot.
That said, there is a wild card in this battle in Timmy Jernigan. Drafted as a nose tackle out of Florida State, the second-round pick could be moved to defensive tackle as a rookie. It all depends on what Baltimore decides to do with All-Pro nose tackle Haloti Ngata.
The Ravens could move him to defensive tackle or opt to keep him at his natural nose tackle spot. He's played both positions at a high level in his eight-year NFL career.
If he remains at nose tackle, look for Baltimore to experiment with Jernigan at defensive tackle. Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post believes this as well, writing, "Jernigan is quick and explosive and has some natural pass rush talent. Jernigan can play as a 5-technique or on the nose, which will enable the Ravens to move Ngata around."
Predicted Winner: Brandon Williams
In the end, I believe Williams wins the starting spot. Jernigan will be used as backup defensive tackle and nose tackle as a rookie.
Starting Free Safety
Matt Elam started 15 games at free safety last year as a rookie, but he'll likely be moving to his more natural strong safety spot this coming season. That will help replace James Ihedigbo, who started every game at strong safety last year.
Ihedigbo signed with the Detroit Lions this offseason in free agency. He recorded 101 tackles, three interceptions and 11 passes defensed in 2013. Now it's up to Elam to fill the whole left behind. He should do fine, but that will leave a void to fill at free safety.
The early favorite to win this battle is Darian Stewart. He's started in just 19 games over four seasons (six in 2013), and the St. Louis Rams let him go this offseason. Stewart then signed with the Ravens, who need help at free safety.
During Baltimore's organized team activities, Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com wrote that Stewart had left a good impression on the coaching staff and that he looks like the early favorite to start:
The safety has spent the last three months adjusting to the Ravens defense after spending the first four years of his career in St. Louis, and he now looks like the favorite to start alongside Matt Elam on the back end of the defense.
Stewart has impressed the coaching staff through the early part of the offseason, and he's developing a strong rapport next to Elam.
Stewart's biggest challenger will likely be third-round pick Terrence Brooks. A rookie out of Florida State, Brooks played both free safety and strong safety during his time in Tallahassee. In 2013, he started 13 games (five at free safety) and recorded 56 tackles and two interceptions. However, Brooks did not see time with the first or second teams during OTAs, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley:
Brooks hasn't seen time with the first or second teams this offseason, and Darian Stewart has taken most of the reps at free safety. When the Ravens signed Stewart in free agency, he was considered a fallback option. He had six starts last season for the St. Louis Rams. Now, it looks as if free safety is Stewart's job to lose.
Predicted Winner: Darian Stewart
The Ravens appear ready to go with the veteran Stewart over the rookie Brooks. Still, this will be one of the fiercest training camp battles.