After free agency and the draft, the Ravens will enter training camp with many question marks at positions on both sides of the ball. These positional battles will go a long way in determining how much success they will have and if they can make a return trip to the playoffs.
Here are some of the key positional battles that will shape the Ravens roster:
Smith vs Beck:
The fact that some people still want Troy Smith to be the starter because he can scramble is absolutely absurd. The Ravens think so highly of Smith’s ability that they brought in Miami Dolphins outcast John Beck to compete with him for the back up job.
Neither one will have a chance at starting baring a major injury to Flacco, but it should be a good battle to see who holds the clipboard. Personally, Troy Smith hasn’t shown me anything that indicates he is even a capable back up in the NFL. The fact that he can “scramble” means nothing, and won’t be the reason if he wins the job.
Much like Troy Smith, John Beck was given the starting job, but unlike Smith, Beck lost it because of his play not sickness. All that being said there has to be something about Beck that Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh like otherwise they would not have brought him in.
This battle is likely to go on throughout the duration of training camp and likely not to be decided until right before week 1. I could personally care less as to the who the backup is but I am leaning towards John Beck.
Man isn’t it nice that we don’t have to worry about these guys competing for the starting quarterback job?
Gano vs “the Kid”:
Matt Stover was the only player that was on the roster since they moved to Cleveland and he has amassed a Hall of Fame career. The Ravens have parted ways with Stover but have made it known he is just a phone call away if they feel that they need him.
With Stover gone, the starting job will be up for grabs between Steven “the kid” Hauschka and Graham Gano.
Hauschka was the Ravens kicker last year for field goals of 50 yards and higher. He has a booming leg but lacks consistent accuracy. Hauscka did not have the college career that Gano had and I do not believe he has the talent either
Last season at Florida State, Gano won the Lou Groza Award and only missed two field goals, both from 50+ yards. In the NFL you need a kicker that can hit 50+ yard field goals but you also need one that can hit consistently from inside 40 yards. Gano has that advantage over Hauschka and but he also has shown in practice that he can hit long field goals.
Rookie kickers tend to struggle but 1st impressions of Gano lead me to think he has the makeup to succeed in year one.
Ultimately, I think his consistency and accuracy will win out and he will be the Ravens kicker for 2009 and many years to come.
Landry vs Zbikowski vs Nakamura :
There will be a major positional battle at the strong safety position alongside Ed Reed. Dawan Landry is coming off a major injury but has been awarded the starting safety position this coming into training camp.
There are still question marks about how Landry will respond from his injury and have to deal with Tom “Momma Said Knock You Out” Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura who the Ravens brass definitely like. Both Zbikowski and Nakamura got a lot playing time last season and should improve immensely in their second year.
Zbikowski and Nakamura are hard hitters and with another year of experience should be more versed in the cover game.
Many fans were unhappy with the Ravens parting ways with Jim Leonhard but Dawan Landry had better stats than Leonhard did before his injury so the guy can obviously play. Despite anything that has been said, it is likely that Landry will be a little “gun-shy” about making hard hits to protect his injury. Just look at Ed Reed for the first part of last season.
I think Landry has more talent then both Nakamura and Zbikowski but I believe they have improved enough to give Landry a battle for the starting position if his injury is not fully healed.
The Ravens also have another battle between Ladarius Webb and Samari Rolle for back up corner/ nickel position. Rolle is the incumbent but Webb seems to have all the tools to be a big time corner in this league. Ultimate, Rolle is on his last leg and Webb will win the job easily.
Williams vs Washington vs Smith vs?:
The wide receiver position is an absolute mess for the Ravens after Derrick Mason announced his retirement. It is still likely Mason will return but if he doesn’t the Ravens are left with a bunch of un proven guy vying for 4 receiver spots.
Mark Clayton is the only garunteed starter as he will be the number 1 receiver without Mason or number 2 if Mason returns. Clayton has shown signs of brilliance and developed a rapport with Flacco in the second half of the year last year, but many question if he can be the “ go to “ guy for this offense.
Demetrius Williams is coming off an injury but may be the most talented receiver on the Ravens roster when healthy. Williams gives Flacco a big target and has the ability to stretch the field, but has major injury concerns. Right now Williams is penciled in as the number 2 but a bad training camp and poor health could bump him from that position.
After Williams and Clayton the Ravens are left with Kelly Washington, Marcus Smith, Ernie Wheelwright and Eron Riley.
Washington has NFL experience although he was never a major factor for the Bengals. Smith was injured for the majority of last season but he has good height, speed and a lot of upside. I like Smith but he missed pretty much the entire year last year which puts him behind the other three.
Eron Riley and Ernie Wheelwright are the long shots but if the the gap between them and Washington and Smith is not a huge one. Riley has blazing speed which makes him intriguing, and if he can develop as a route runner he may be an X factor. In the end I believe Riley and Wheelwright will be on the practice squad but you never know.
The Ravens receiving corps is a pot luck and even the coaching staff has no idea what will come of it. Mason could return or they could acquire another wide out or both.
Either way, the play of Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams will determine if the Ravens are Super Bowl bound or not.
Oher vs Terry:
This job is Michael Oher’s to lose, but if he fails to pick up the playbook quickly, he will lose it
These positional battles are what makes training camp fun and they will provide fans with a lot to argue about. Regardless of who wins them, the Ravens seem to have depth at every position and that will be a major strength for this team.
Personally I am going to enjoy watching these battle play out and see who is on the Ravens 60-man roster come Week 1.
The Ravens brass has soured on Terry and he has proved that he is not an adequate tackle in this league. The O-Line has depth and flexibility so Yanda could slide to tackle and Chester to guard if Oher is not ready and the Ravens don’t want to put Terry in.
Everything depends on Oher’s ability to pick up the playbook. Hopefully for the sake of the o- line he does it sooner than later.
Webb vs Carr:
Much to the delight of everyone the Yamon Figurs era in Baltimore looks to be over. With Figurs out of the picture and Jim Leohnard on the Jets, the Ravens now have a problem every team wants to have, too much talent at one position. Both Ladarius Webb and Chris Carr will be battling to see who wins the returner job and both have the big play ability the Special teams needs.
I have to give a slight edge to Carr given the fact that he already had success last season, but Webb has the speed and makeup to win the job. Both players look to give the Ravens a legitimate returner they have not since the departure of Jermaine Lewis.
Webb and Carr will help turn the once maligned special teams unit, into one of the best in the league. Fans don’t care who is returning kicks, as long as its not Yamon Figurs.
Positional battles like these are what makes training camp fun to watch. No matter who wins the Ravens fans should feel good about the depth this team has.
It will be interesting to watch these battles take shape and to see who is on the roster come September 13th.