Baltimore Ravens' Training Camp To-Do List
If the Baltimore Ravens are going to make a successful return to the NFL postseason, they’ll need to take care of certain issues during training camp. There weren’t many things that went right for Baltimore in 2013, but it still managed to finish 8-8 and barely miss the postseason.
Changes to both the roster and the coaching staff have been made in an effort to right the ship, but there are still a number of items on the Ravens' to-do list for training camp.
Rebuilding the rushing attack and implementing the new offense are at the top of the list, but there are a couple of defensive concerns that need to be addressed also—namely the shaky secondary.
Get Rushing Attack Back on Track
The identity of the Ravens franchise has always been as a tough, physical, old-school football team that wears out the opposition with the strength of its defense and hammering away with the running game.
That ground game was nonexistent in 2013, and the consequences of that were catastrophic for the offense. Baltimore couldn’t sustain drives, and Joe Flacco was forced to take on too much responsibility and force throws.
Hiring Gary Kubiak and adding Steve Smith Sr. and Owen Daniels is sure to help the offense improve, but it’s all meaningless unless the Ravens can consistently run the ball.
Reliable offensive line play and a bounce-back season from Ray Rice are the two requirements for a rejuvenated rushing attack, and training camp will be the first chance to evaluate those two aspects of the offense.
Shore Up Secondary
The Ravens will unleash a potentially dominant front seven on the rest of the league—one that can remain stout against the run while bullying opposing O-lines to generate pressure and constantly disrupt quarterbacks' pockets.
But while Baltimore is wreaking havoc up front, there are serious concerns about whether the back end will be able to hold up.
That’s a fairly odd predicament given that the Ravens secondary contains three good starters in Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Matt Elam.
The free safety and third cornerback positions are far less reliable, however, and the Ravens could be spending most of their season figuring out how to cover for the weak links in the defensive chain mail.
Training camp will be an opportunity for some of the defensive backs to win the starting jobs—position battles that are wide open at this point.
Install New Offense
This is a very broad “to-do” item, but the Ravens will be working extremely hard to accomplish it. The preliminary installation of Gary Kubiak’s offense has already occurred, but training camp will be the first demonstration of how it fares against a real-life defense.
Is everybody on the same page with regards to the playbook? Is the timing correct? Are wide receivers and quarterbacks adjusting to the same hot routes? How efficient are audibles and the no-huddle?
OTAs and minicamp were sessions to get everybody familiar with the plays and the terminology, but training camp will be essential for acclimating to the nuances of the system and focusing on the finer points that decide ballgames.
Sort out D-Line Rotation
While the Ravens need to find players who can reliably fill in the gaps in the secondary, they have a different problem to solve on the defensive line.
Having a lot of talented young players at one position is a good problem to have, but it’s still one the coaching staff needs to sort out.
It will be like figuring out a jigsaw puzzle—only if every piece weighed roughly 300 pounds. So many of Baltimore’s D-linemen are versatile enough to play multiple positions, so determining the best positions for each player and which duos or trios work best together will be interesting.
For example, Haloti Ngata is one of the most physically dominant players in the NFL, but he didn’t look like that at nose tackle last year. He constantly faced double-teams and was consequently unable to be the disruptive force we’ve grown accustomed to.
Would a move outside to defensive end be best for the big man, or would sticking inside with more talent around him be the best use of his physical assets?
Every player has had his moments in OTAs, but training camp will be the first chance to demonstrate physicality and strength in an attempt to secure playing time.
Improve Red-Zone Offense
This could be achieved organically if the Ravens can improve the rushing attack and successfully install the new offense, but there are likely certain things that will need to be changed (i.e. philosophy or personnel) to develop as a red-zone offense.
The playoff race will be exceptionally tight in the AFC North, and taking advantage of red-zone trips will be imperative if Baltimore is to make it back to the postseason.
Some of it comes down to individuals performing better and making better decisions, but there is also a great deal of pressure on Gary Kubiak to design a system that can get touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.