Baltimore Ravens: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
Training camp has only been underway for one week, but there have been plenty of notes and observations for the Baltimore Ravens. From the offensive line to position battles to surprising standouts to injured stars, all the takeaways from the first week of training camp are consolidated here.
Overall, it’s mostly good news for the Ravens. The tests continue to get more difficult as the team moves from camp to preseason to the regular season, but the offense is coming along and young players are stepping up.
Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Juszczyk and Kamar Aiken have all made an impact in training camp, solidifying their roles or making their case to stay on the final roster. There is plenty of time left for other developments, but these are the first impressions from Ravens camp.
O-Line Upgrades Are Paying Off So Far
The most critical goal of the offseason was to improve the offensive line. General manager Ozzie Newsome has made a number of key moves, and the results have been promising. In addition to re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe to a long-term deal, Newsome traded for center Jeremy Zuttah. Marshal Yanda talked to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com about the addition:
He has done a great job. The calls have been coming out fast. He’s picked up on the offense great. We go out there and there’s not a lot of confusion. Everyone is just rolling and he’s doing a good job.
Change wasn’t restricted to personnel, as Gary Kubiak was brought in to run the offense with his zone scheme in tow. Yanda went on to talk about the adjustment and the progress the unit has made:
It’s early still, but it seems like we’re on the right track. It’s a fresh start. You take it and you run with it. Everybody is working hard and that’s what you need to do at this time. You stick your nose down and just grind and get better as a team.
The fate of the offense rests on the extremely broad shoulders of the O-line, so it’s incredibly reassuring to hear of the strong start.
Tyrod Taylor Playing Well in New Offense
Most Ravens fans are (rightfully) concerned about how Joe Flacco is adjusting to the new offense, but the backup quarterback is faring quite well in that respect.
Tyrod Taylor has been the lone backup for the past three seasons, but this season he has a challenger in Keith Wenning.
Up to this point, Taylor has risen to the challenge and looked very good in the new system. His coordinator, Gary Kubiak, is happy about his performance, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I’ve been very impressed. Ty really bought into what we’re doing; he’s working extremely hard. The thing I love about Ty, I know his goal is to be a starter in this league and that’s what you want as a coach. So he’s very competitive, pushes Joe every day, doing a great job.
Taylor is making a strong case to be kept on the final roster, especially with Wenning looking like a rookie in camp.
Wide Receivers Are Battling for Remaining Spots
Much like it was last year, the wide receiver battle is a complete free-for-all. Unlike 2013, however, it’s a close contest because everyone is truly impressing.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was extremely pleased—and confused—with the wide receiver battle, according to Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun:
In all my years in the league, I don't know that I've ever seen as competitive a situation as we have at receiver right now. I would have no chance telling [coach] John [Harbaugh] which five or six I would want right now.
This is going to be very competitive, and how it plays out is going to be good for this football team. Special teams will be a big part of that.
Beyond them, it’s completely up for grabs, and everyone has had their moments in training camp.
Kamar Aiken Is Standing Out
One of the reasons for the receiver battle being more hotly contested than expected is the surprising play of Kamar Aiken. The second-year receiver has totally exceeded expectations and is consistently using his impressive frame (6’2”, 215 pounds) to make plays.
In his training camp notes, ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley singled out Kamar Aiken as the biggest revelation of camp:
The biggest surprise of camp has been wide receiver Kamar Aiken. He wasn't on the radar this offseason, but he likely has passed Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams on the depth chart with what he's done this summer. It seems like he makes a catch every day that makes you notice him.
Unsung receivers making noise in training camp is nothing new for the Ravens, and Aiken will have to keep up this level of play for the rest of camp and the preseason to parlay it into a roster spot, but the early signs are promising.
Lardarius Webb Will Rest During Preseason
Lardarius Webb was initially diagnosed with “back spasms”—an injury that wasn’t considered too serious. Since then, however, Webb hasn’t progressed as quickly as expected, and the Ravens did some testing on their star cornerback.
Thankfully, there is no structural damage, but that hasn’t stopped the team from taking a cautious approach and declaring that Webb will miss the first two preseason games. Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com reported Coach Harbaugh’s statement on the matter:
He has some things going on in there that aren’t long-term things. This early part of camp—I just don’t want to put him through this on his back. … It’s [really] not that important to him. I want to get him right. … I just would rather keep him out of this first part of training camp, and we’ll just see how it feels more toward the end of camp.
It makes a lot of sense for Baltimore to play it safe with Webb since back issues have a tendency of popping up again. Furthermore, Webb’s absence will allow the likes of Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and Dominique Franks to get more runs with the starters and try to gain separation in the cornerback battle.
Kyle Juszczyk Has Improved as a Blocker
There has been a lot of discussion about Kyle Juszczyk and what he can bring to the passing game as a second receiver out of the backfield and a hybrid tight end/fullback. That’s all well and good, but the fact of the matter is that Juszczyk isn’t getting on the field unless he can hold his own as a lead blocker for the running backs.
The Harvard man knows that all too well, as he told Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I knew the biggest thing for me was proving that I could be a lead blocker. I know that the first day the pads were put on, all eyes were going to be on me in that sense. That’s been my biggest focus for training camp—to show my physicality and the fact that I can lead block.
I feel like I’ve taken a really big step in that department. I learned to use my hands, and how to position myself in my blocks this year. I see a huge difference from last year.
It’s still early, but there has been a noticeable improvement in the Harvard product’s physicality. Hopefully that trend continues, since he has the skill set to become a unique weapon for the Ravens offense.