Without Bennett, Ravens are stuck - by Matt Bowen
The Baltimore Ravens seem to be in a pinch at wide receiver, and with camp opening for veterans in two days, we have to wonder what the plan is at the position—especially after the club was shocked by its Ravens-stunned-by-Masons-retirement.html" target="_blank">second sudden retirement this month.
I wrote on Saturday that the move by Baltimore to sign Drew Bennett—who is only 30 years old—was good from a football standpoint because I still thought the former Titans and Rams receiver could get down the field and use his straight-line speed to stretch the defense outside the numbers and become a decent threat inside the red zone for quarterback Joe Flacco.
But Bennett changed his mind over the weekend, citing concerns about his physical health and his ability to endure another season of NFL football.
And we have to believe him.
Sure, I can understand the shock of the announcement to Ravens fans, but we have to understand that training camp in the NFL is, well, an absolutely miserable experience. For Bennett, who obviously was concerned about his health, this has to be an issue, because every player (regardless of experience) has a knot in his stomach in the days leading up to camp.
The regular season is a breeze compared to camp. There are days off, travel days that are treated with care, time to actually get in the weight room and meetings that aren’t spent chugging fluids so you can make it through the afternoon session.
And if Bennett did indeed have concerns about his health, they were about camp, not October.
Because this is how veterans think. To get to the regular season—and the paychecks—you have to survive camp, practice every day and, in Bennett’s case, show the coaching staff and GM Ozzie Newsome that he still had enough left in his body, and his legs, to eventual make the opening-day roster.
And it’s all gravy after that.
But you still have to get there. For that reason, I don’t fault Bennett at all. He had a good career, made a good chunk of cash and now he gets to move on to real life.
Unfortunately, the Ravens don’t. They’re still stuck without a receiver heading into Wednesday, and that concerns me from a football standpoint.
Look, I’m all for the Ravens and their style of football. They play great defense, cause turnovers, treat special teams with importance and run the ball downhill to move the chains. Add in Flacco—and some calculated risks in the passing game—and we are looking at a team that not only can challenge the Steelers for the AFC North, but also make a deep run into January.
But even so, this team is lacking in weapons on the outside.
Sure, we can point to that exact style of play and say it doesn’t matter in Baltimore—that the Ravens win despite their deficiencies in vertical weapons at receiver, or that TE Todd Heap can carry the load in the intermediate-to-deep passing game. And that’s fine, but this is the same team that lost three times to Pittsburgh in 2008—and that was with Derrick Mason.
Now this team heads into camp with Mark Clayton as its No. 1 option. Clayton has yet to develop into the first-round talent the team envisioned when it drafted him—and there’s not much else in terms of game planning or matchup advantages on the outside.
Does this hinder the development of Flacco? And how does the lack of weapons affect teams’ game planning for the Ravens? Could we see eight- or even nine-man fronts, forcing the Ravens to throw the ball downfield?
The bottom line is that the Ravens went out and signed Bennett for a reason, because if they were satisfied with their roster, they wouldn’t have held a workout in the first place. Maybe D.J. Hackett, the former Panther and Seahawk who also worked out for the team, will now be the choice to bring into camp.
But whatever direction Newsome and this team go, they have a hole to fill on offense — still.
Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41
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