Updating Baltimore Ravens' Key Position Battles Early in Training Camp
The Baltimore Ravens entered training camp with several position battles at crucial positions.
It's safe to say three starting spots are up for grabs based on how the offseason has transpired. While there is competition at nearly every position for backup and third-string roles, getting the starters established is more important right now.
Baltimore has now conducted five practices, the latter of which being an open practice to both fans and media. Over the ensuing slides, we'll take a look at the three biggest battles for a starting spot, who's in contention and who's the early favorite to win the job.
The Main Competitors:
After losing Arthur Jones left to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, Baltimore was left with a big void to fill at defensive tackle. The good news is that there are several quality players vying for the vacant starting spot.
Entering training camp, the favorite to win the job was second-year man Brandon Williams. He was the next man in line on the depth chart when Jones left.
The problem is he played just 93 snaps last year as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus. Williams was a third-round pick out of Missouri Southern State, a Division II school.
DeAngelo Tyson is another challenger for the starting spot. He's played defensive end in his first two NFL seasons, but is being moved around the defensive line during camp. He made some solid plays during Thursday's practice, according to Garrett Dowling of BaltimoreRavens.com.
DeAngelo Tyson made a few standout plays. He ended up in the backfield on back-to-back plays, shrugging off blockers and forcing his way behind the line of scrimmage. That is a good sign with last year’s starter, Art Jones, leaving via free agency for Indianapolis.
Tyson played just 153 snaps last year, so he too doesn't have much experience. Early on in camp, it looks like Tyson and Williams are the top candidates to win the starting defensive tackle spot.
However, second-round pick Timmy Jernigan is also making some noise, reports Mike Preston of The Baltimore Sun. Jernigan was outstanding during Saturday's camp session and "showed a lot of raw power and explosion in pass rushing drills." ESPN's Jamison Hensley said Jernigan was one of the two best players in practice on Friday.
Drafted as a nose tackle out of Florida State, Jernigan could be moved to defensive tackle as a rookie, so it's still unclear as to what position he'll play as a rookie. For now, I believe Jernigan will be used as backup defensive tackle and nose tackle as a rookie. He'll play a lot of snaps with committing to one position, but he won't start many, if any games this year.
In the end, I see Williams winning the starting defensive tackle spot. However, if Baltimore decides to commit to playing Jernigan at only defensive tackle this year, I believe he'll eventually win the starting role. Until the Ravens commit to him playing one position full time, though, I'm going with Williams as the starter.
The Main Competitors:
With Michael Oher having signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency, Baltimore lost its starting right tackle of the past five seasons. Making matters worse was that the Ravens did little to add any real depth at the position.
That's left Ricky Wagner as the default favorite after he was Oher's backup as a rookie in 2012. One player trying to push him is Jah Reid. Though he's spent most of his career being a backup guard, Reid's also played some tackle.
New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has been impressed with Reid's performance in camp thus far, via CSNBaltimore.com:
Jah looks better – he’s lost some weight...To me, he’s moving better. It’d be nice to see Jah stay healthy and really compete at a high level.
As for Wagner, he too has looked good in camp while running with the first-team offense. Another player who was expected to push for playing time is Ryan Jensen. He's a converted center/guard who's looking to earn a roster spot more than anything.
However, Kubiak revealed that Jensen was moved back inside when camp opened, and the right tackle spot is down to Reid and Wagner for now.
Wagner wins the starting right tackle spot.
The Main Competitors:
The Ravens are in need of a starting free safety due to the shuffling at that position. James Ihedigbo was the starting strong safety last year, while Matt Elam started at free safety.
Ihedigbo left in free agency this offseason to sign with the Detroit Lions, and Elam was moved to strong safety to replace him.
Baltimore must now find who will start at free safety. Early on in camp, it looks like the veteran Darian Stewart is the favorite. He entered camp as the favorite after performing well in OTAs, and he's maintained that lead.
Part of the reason why he's the favorite is the familiarity between he and former St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who now serves as the Ravens’ secondary coach and assistant head coach.
Of course, Spagnuolo had a hand in getting Stewart to Baltimore. According to via BaltimoreRavens.com, Spagnuolo likes Stewart's athletic traits:
'Stew’ is one of those guys that when we took [him] as a free agent, the thing that stuck out was that he was a very explosive guy...I’m talking about change of direction and not necessarily just straight speed. He’s showing that a little bit now. I remember that being vivid when he was a young guy. When we [signed] him, my hope was he’d still have that. He still does.
Stewart has been running with the first-team defense during camp. His primary challenger has been Jeromy Miles. He too has been getting snaps with the starters, though it's been only when Stewart was moved to cornerback, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com.
Free safety Darian Stewart is occasionally moving over to play some cornerback when the Ravens want to give Jeromy Miles, who is also pushing for the starting gig, more snaps. Baltimore could use three safeties at one time.
The real surprise here is the fact that Miles and not Terrence Brooks is the primary backup to Stewart. Brooks, a third-round pick this year out of Florida State, was expected to compete for the starting free safety spot as a rookie.
However, the rookie learning curve appears to be hitting Brooks harder than expected. John Eisenberg of BaltimoreRavens.com reports Brooks has been running with the third-string defense.
To be fair to Brooks, he's a rookie with less than a full week's worth of NFL practices under his belt. It's too early to rule him out of becoming a starter at some point this year. That said, it looks like this position battle is going to come down to the veterans in Stewart and Miles.
In terms of previous starting experience, Stewart has a big advantage over Miles. In four seasons in the NFL, Stewart has played in 54 games, starting 19 of them. Miles has played in 51 games over four seasons but has started in just one game, which came in 2012 when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Stewart is the favorite to win this job, and as of now, Miles looks to be his biggest challenger.
Stewart holds off Miles and Brooks and wins the starting free safety spot.