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With players beginning to report to Owings Mills by the end of the weekend and the first full-squad workout less than a week away, training camp signifies the official start of the Ravens’ marathon journey to defend their Super Bowl championship from a year ago.
Coach John Harbaugh will undoubtedly be eager to learn which players report in better shape — Courtney Upshaw, anyone? — and which ones with preexisting injury concerns — Lardarius Webb and Jameel McClain among others — are ready to return to the practice field.
With that in mind, the time for pondering the upcoming season is nearly over as I predict whose stock will rise and which players will fall during camp and the preseason. I’ve made two selections from each position group, with some units obviously being more intriguing than others to watch this summer.
On Friday’s edition of The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction, I provided a more extensive breakdown of the offensive units and defensive units and Drew Forrester offered his own choices. You can listen to those segments HERE and HERE.
Rising: Joe Flacco
Falling: Caleb Hanie
Tip: The Ravens will rely on their franchise quarterback more heavily than ever in terms of both play on the field and leadership off it as Flacco will be working with the least-experienced group of wideouts he’s seen over his six seasons. Meanwhile, Hanie is the latest contestant in fans’ annual game of “Who Will Unseat Tyrod Taylor as Backup Quarterback?” with which I haven’t been impressed.
Rising: Bernard Pierce
Falling: Ray Rice
Tip: These choices seem too obvious, but they are simply a product of the Ravens wanting to get Pierce more involved in the offense while keeping Rice fresh for the latter portion of the season. The veteran will remain the feature back and Pierce the change of pace, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rice receives fewer carries than in past years while posting a career high in receptions this season.
Rising: Torrey Smith
Falling: Jacoby Jones
Tip: We’ve discussed the merits of such names as Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson ad nauseam, but Smith becoming a receiver capable of making 70 or more receptions would be far more significant than predicting which other young receiver might make more than a token contribution on the field. Much has been made by Jones’ improved footwork from his time spent dancing this offseason, but I just don’t see him showing enough versatility to be an every-down receiver in the Baltimore offense.
Rising: Dennis Pitta
Falling: Billy Bajema
Tip: It will be fascinating to see how much offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell elects to use Pitta out of the slot and how that might impact his production as well as Ed Dickson as they approach unrestricted free agency next winter. Meanwhile, Bajema will have a tough time beating out Maryland product Matt Furstenburg and 2012 practice-squad member Alex Silvestro for the third tight end spot.
Rising: Kelechi Osemele
Falling: Bryant McKinnie
Tip: Entering his second year and finally able to focus on the left guard position, Osemele has made the free-agent departure of Ben Grubbs a distant memory, hasn’t he? I don’t anticipate McKinnie having any real issues in terms of his work ethic or keeping his starting job, but many have glossed over the reality that he’ll turn 34 early in September and has never been a very strong run blocker, two realities that are likely to be exposed over a 16-game schedule.
Rising: Chris Canty
Falling: Terrence Cody
Tip: One of the most overlooked aspects of the Ravens’ defensive struggles last season was the inability to find a suitable replacement for Cory Redding, which Canty will bring as an effective 5-technique player this season. Cody appears to be the easy choice in this unit after he was sidelined this spring while recovering from hip surgery and will be pushed by rookie nose tackle Brandon Williams in the defensive line rotation.
Rising: Arthur Brown
Falling: Jameel McClain
Tip: With Brown expected to be 100 percent after undergoing sports hernia surgery this spring, he will have every chance to win one of the starting inside linebacker jobs. The Ravens and McClain have said all the right things in being optimistic that he’ll be cleared to play, but I remain skeptical until that day actually arrives and others such as veteran Daryl Smith and the emerging Josh Bynes will have the opportunity to close the gap in the meantime.
Rising: Jimmy Smith
Falling: Chykie Brown
Tip: After two disappointing campaigns to begin his NFL career, Smith will finally start to show more consistency at the cornerback position and he’ll need it to unseat Corey Graham as a starter opposite Lardarius Webb. Brown will remain a strong special-teams player, but his opportunities in the nickel package will dwindle with Webb and Smith both healthy this year.
Rising: Matt Elam
Falling: Christian Thompson
Tip: The first-round pick Elam may not be a Pro Bowl player, but his skills in pass coverage to go along with his physicality will be an upgrade over Bernard Pollard in the Baltimore secondary. It didn’t speak well for Thompson, a 2012 fourth-round pick, that the Ravens drafted a safety in the first round, re-signed James Ihedigbo, and signed veteran Michael Huff in the offseason and that’s not even taking into account his four-game suspension to start the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.