Reporters typically spend this time of year filling up their notebooks by asking questions about a variety of players in an effort to churn out plenty of stories with media access being limited to only one day per week during OTAs.
This results in many canned answers full of generic compliments but lacking substance as few are going to tell the truth if it comes across as negative. It can be a different story, however, when a player or coach offers unprovoked praise for an individual when his name or position group wasn’t even mentioned specifically.
Asked about the newcomers to the Baltimore defense this year, Webb went out of his way to praise the improved leadership and increased willingness to communicate in the secondary from 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam, who is expected to work at strong safety this year after playing out of position as a rookie. Though he started 15 games, Elam garnered the most attention in his first season for the inflammatory comments he made about All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson leading into a Week 15 battle.
For a defense that was relatively productive but lacked its usual fire last season, Elam can fill a vocal role in the secondary that has been absent since the departures of Reed and Bernard Pollard. On top of that, his physical style is more conducive to playing close to the line of scrimmage, meaning he could bring an intimidation factor and physicality largely absent from the unit last year.
Running back picture
It was interesting to see veteran newcomer Justin Forsett take reps from Ray Rice in the first-team offense during last week’s workout open to the media, but it probably doesn’t mean much to the overall outlook for the position this year.
Harbaugh knows it’s all but inevitable that Rice will be suspended for the start of the season, meaning the Ravens must look at how they’ll handle the workload in the early games of the season. That being said, don’t forget we’re talking about a back who averaged just 3.1 yards per carry last season and looked like his career was in the midst of a steep decline, making it not at all farfetched for the coaching staff to not only send the 27-year-old a message for his off-field transgressions but to remind him of his lackluster play in 2013.
With Bernard Pierce still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro dealing with the fallout of his own arrest, Forsett was simply the next man up on the depth chart and clearly has a familiarity in Kubiak’s system dating back to his days in Houston, which made him a good fit to work alongside Rice in a first-team timeshare. Rice’s pending suspension improves Forsett’s chances of making the team initially out of the preseason, but it’s still difficult envisioning him being any higher than fourth on the depth chart with all backs on a level playing field.
It’s clear that Rice has trimmed down considerably, but he still has a long way to go in proving he can bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign — and the startling offseason that followed it.