11 Baltimore Ravens Impressing Early in 2012 NFL Offseason

James Reagan@@James__ReaganCorrespondent IIJune 28, 2012

11 Baltimore Ravens Impressing Early in 2012 NFL Offseason

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    In about a month from now the Baltimore Ravens will convene at their training facility in Owings Mills, Md., for training camp. Until then, though, it is more or less vacation time for every player on the Ravens roster. 

    Even though there's not much news in the NFL this time of the year, it is nonetheless an important time for NFL players. The start of training camp for the Ravens on July 25 will mark the end of the offseason and the beginning to the 2012 season. It is especially a crucial time for rookies and new free-agent acquisitions that will be spending their first season with the purple and black.

    With the end of the long NFL offseason finally in sight, now is a great time to look at which players impressed during the minicamps and optional offseason workouts. Working out extra hard during the offseason can often lead to improvement during the following season. Not only does it get the players in the good graces of their coaches, but it also puts them in a football playing mindset that is not gained from sitting on the couch.

    Here are the Ravens that have impressed the most during the 2012 NFL offseason.

Jimmy Smith

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    As a backup cornerback with his eyes on a starting position, Jimmy Smith has plenty of motivation to work hard this offseason. He also has far more opportunity than last year's offseason, which was greatly marred by the lockout.

    During his first "normal" offseason, Smith has participated in most offseason workouts. The only workouts he did miss were the fourth, fifth and sixth OTA practices, all of which were missed to deal with a personal matter. When talking with the press, Smith has said he appreciates the extra workouts.

    Smith also participated in the team's conditioning program, which resulted in him dropping 15 pounds to weigh in at 201 pounds. With a height of 6'2", Smith certainly has the physical attributes to play great at corner this season.

    Another area he's hoping to improve in is speed. Smith's only real bad game last year came against the San Diego Chargers when he got burned by Malcolm Floyd in the 34-14 loss.

    With improved speed and weight, Smith should have what it takes to challenge Cary Williams for a starting spot. Even if his starting bid fails, Smith should definitely see more playing time in 2012.

Tandon Doss

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    There were few Ravens rookies that could be considered disappointments in the 2011 season. Perhaps the most notable one was fourth-round pick Tandon Doss, who did not get a single catch during the entire season. 

    His failure is even more disappointing considering the opportunity that was present last year. Lee Evans was injured for a good part of the season and he was mostly ineffective even when he was healthy. Yet instead of Doss stepping up as the No. 3 receiver, it was undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams that got the playing time. 

    In addition to the lockout, injuries were a big part of what kept Doss inactive, particularly a double sports hernia he had to have surgery on just prior to his senior year at Indiana University.

    Now Doss is not only utilizing his catching ability, but he is also improving his yards after the catch. The hesitation seems to be gone from his game as he is now almost two years removed from his surgery. It's great timing for Doss, who, with a strong training camp, could possibly contribute as the Ravens' fourth- or even third-string receiver.

Ray Rice

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    It may seem odd that a player who is in the midst of a holdout appears on a list of players impressing this offseason. Then again, the case of Ray Rice's holdout has been pretty unique to begin with.

    While he hopes to strike rich by getting paid nearly $10 million a season, Rice still is trying to keep himself in shape. He has always prided himself on his ability to train and he's even tweeted a video showing one of his offseason workouts.

    This workout is not one many non-football players would even consider attempting. In it, Rice runs up bleachers with two 15-gallon steel kegs raised above his head. He is also wearing a weighted vest.

    Rice's repeated dedication to working out by himself is what lands him on this list. Although Ravens management is rightly concerned with contract negotiations, they have to secretly be pleased their star player is still working hard. Too many times players who are holding out behave like Chris Johnson and, once they are paid, they show up out of shape.

Justin Tucker

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    Although he was undrafted, it's looking like Justin Tucker will get a good chance at becoming the team's kicker in 2012. Back in May, Tucker was officially signed to become the competition to incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff.

    It's going to be a battle that will likely only have one winner who stays on the roster. Public opinion is very much against Cundiff after his dreadful miss that cost the Ravens the AFC Championship. It's amazing the Ravens have kept him this long, but any more missed field goals could see Cundiff's time in Baltimore come to an end.

    Despite being undrafted, Tucker did have a great college career with Texas. He made 40 of 48 career attempts as a Longhorn. He was clutch from within the 40-yard line, making 11 of 15 attempts from the 30- to 39-yard range and all 18 attempts from inside the 30.

    A major reason Tucker was signed was an impressive showing at one of the rookie minicamps. During this minicamp he hit a 55-yard field goal at the end of one practice and then went 4-of-4 from inside 50 yards. He even almost hit a pair of 60-yarders during the day. 

    With those kind of numbers, Tucker could very well be the replacement to Cundiff. Even if Cundiff wins the competition, Tucker's name will be one to keep in mind as a possible replacement. After all, if Cundiff is as confident as he says he is, the competition can only push him to play better.

Courtney Upshaw

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    Whether the Ravens pass rush can thrive without Terrell Suggs very much rests in the development of Courtney Upshaw. It's definitely more pressure than Upshaw was expecting when he was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. However, so far in the offseason workouts, he has seemed up to the task.

    While at Alabama, Upshaw mostly played in the rush hybrid-linebacker position Suggs plays in. Still, no starting job is guaranteed, so Upshaw finds himself in a competition with Paul Krueger and Sergio Kindle for a starting outside linebacker position.

    So far Upshaw has made a positive impression on the Ravens coaching staff. This includes John Harbaugh, who says Upshaw is off to a good start. Harbaugh also added that Upshaw "is going into coverage well" and "he is really sharp," both things that bode well for Upshaw's starting aspirations. 

Joe Flacco

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    In addition to the pressing issue of Ray Rice's contract, the Ravens might soon have to worry about another impending free agent. Joe Flacco will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season and the Ravens had hoped to get a deal done before the start of this coming season. 

    It's starting to look less likely that deal will get done this summer, but that hasn't prevented Flacco from still showing up for offseason workouts. It's definitely an applaudable course of action for a player who could be staying away while he worries about his contract situation.

    Instead, Flacco is doing the right things and saying the right things to the media. He's also being a leader to his young receivers by actively talking and working with them.

    This year will be crucial for Flacco and the pressure is only going to rise if a deal doesn't get done. It's encouraging that Flacco doesn't seem fazed by it, and hopefully he can keep his cool demeanor intact during what will likely be a stressful 2012 season. 

Arthur Jones

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    The term workout warrior has been tossed around when describing many NFL players. However, at least when it comes to the Ravens, there is one player who most embodies that term. And it's not whom you would think it would be. 

    Arthur Jones has spent the last two seasons working out with his brother, who is UFC champion Jon "Bones" Jones. During their workouts, the two of them work on a variety of MMA workouts. This includes sparring, weight training and cardio.

    Though he hasn't been on the field all that much during his first two seasons in the NFL, Jones still is consistently in excellent shape. Anyone who follows him on Twitter will see that he frequently tweets about his daily workouts. 

    Now Jones may actually be in a position to get more attention from Ravens fans and possibly even the NFL as a whole. He is vying for the void at defensive tackle caused by the departure of Cory Redding. Though it will be difficult to replace Redding, both Jones and Pernell McPhee are up-and-coming players that will probably switch out a lot at defensive tackle. 

Sergio Kindle

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    The Terrell Suggs injury has been a major storyline this offseason and that, along with Jarret Johnson's departure, has opened up two starting spots among the Ravens linebackers. At this point we don't really know who the starters are going to be, so lots of names are being tossed around.

    One of the names being tossed around is Sergio Kindle. A second-round pick back in 2010, Kindle is mostly considered a bust so far as he has had very little playing time and has not accumulated any tackles yet. Mostly this is due to a career-threatening injury he suffered in the summer of 2010 where he fell down two flights of stairs and suffered head trauma.

    After sitting out the entire 2010 season, Kindle played sparingly in 2011 and he again failed to show up on the stat sheet. Honestly, his aspirations to start may be pretty far-fetched even with the Suggs injury as Kindle still suffers from serious hearing loss thanks to the injury.

    Still, it's a testimony to his resilience that Kindle has showed up to offseason workouts and worked hard to learn the two linebacker positions. With his roster spot not guaranteed this season, it's a definite plus that Kindle has the playbook down and he's got his body back in football shape.  

Ray Lewis

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    As he gears up for his 17th season in the NFL, Ray Lewis is still finding new ways to improve his offseason workouts. This offseason he's gotten into biking in an attempt to lose weight.

    So far reports have indicated that Lewis has lost significant weight, although how much exactly remains a mystery. His reason for shedding weight was so he could adapt to the changing game and better defend speedy tight ends.

    With the NFL now more pass happy than ever, Lewis needs to regain speed so he can stay on the field in passing situations. A lighter and more agile Lewis could better contribute in defending the passing game. It's adjustments like these that have helped Lewis stay at his elite level during his 17 years in the league. 

Deonte Thompson

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    Deonte Thompson is another undrafted player facing long odds to make the Ravens roster. It's a crowded competition for backup wide receiver, though Thompson's performance at OTA's has squarely put his name in the mix.

    The main attribute Thompson has is speed. Arguably the fastest player on the Ravens roster, Thompson turned some heads when he got past the defense for a long touchdown during 11-on-11 drills. The speed isn't that surprising since Thompson ran a 4.23 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

    Already praise is rushing in for Thompson's minicamp showing. Ravens insider John Eisenberg gave Thompson the "Most Heads Turned" award from OTA's. Eisenberg was joined in his praise by CBS Sports' Jason Butt, who went as far to say that Thompson is "poised to contend for a roster spot."

Nigel Carr

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    It's usually a good sign when rookie free agents turn heads during OTA's. Like Deonte Thompson, Nigel Carr also did that on repeated occasions during the Ravens OTA's.

    During one practice, Carr intercepted a John Brantley pass to close out practice. On another day, Carr returned an interception back for a pick-six. It's been the case that throughout OTA's Carr has stepped up and made great defensive plays. 

    A major reason Carr went undrafted was character issues. In 2010, Carr was arrested on burglary and fraud charges. This arrest forced him to switch schools and has definitely tainted a previously sketchy record.

    However, Carr seems determined to prove he is a changed man now. With no other teams showing interest, Carr could be getting his final shot at an NFL career. So far he's played like his back against the wall, meaning that for at least few more months, this undrafted linebacker will get the opportunity to fight to make the Ravens roster.  


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