After catching a preview of Ravens Training Camp coverage on Comcast Sports Net last night, I became more excited than Joe Buck at an uptight jerk convention. I began to think of all of the great storylines that come out of training camp. After talking with Nestor today on Limited Access I decided I would write a blog about the eight players I am most excited about seeing during training camp.
1. Demetrius Williams
“Spiderman” is the most physically gifted receiver on the Ravens roster; he has the combination of skill, size, and speed that could translate into becoming an impact receiver. Unfortunately health has been a major concern throughout his career. Williams has only played 16 games over the last two seasons.
Even if Derrick Mason decides not to retire Williams must stay healthy for Joe Flacco to reach “the next level” during his second year in the NFL. If Mason does retire, “Spiderman” may need a heroic performance this season for the Ravens offense to be productive.
2. Tavares Gooden
Gooden is a big, athletic linebacker from “The U” who looks primed to take over at inside linebacker for the departed Bart Scott. A former track star, at 6’1” 235 pounds Gooden has the ability to go sideline to sideline with anyone in the league.
Gooden couldn’t have fallen into a better situation last year then being drafted by the Ravens in the third round of the draft. The 24 year old has a great pair of mentors in fellow Miami alums Ed Reed and Ray Lewis who should not only help Gooden on the field, but help him learn how to use the film room to make him an impact player.
An athletic inside linebacker from “The U” who is known for going sideline to sideline…at least expectations shouldn’t be too high for Gooden.
3. Ray Rice
When the Ravens drafted Rice in the second round of last year’s draft I must admit I was a little upset because he didn’t seem to fill a glaring need on the roster. But with Willis McGahee’s inability to coexist with head coach John Harbaugh, Rice has become a valuable asset in the Ravens backfield.
Rice is the most explosive player the Ravens have in their backfield and looks primed to become a game breaking, change of pace back in Cam Cameron’s offense. Rice also has great value for the Ravens with his natural pass catching ability, he should break off more than a few long runs on swing passes and screen plays.
4. Graham Gano
For years the only reliable offensive weapon in Baltimore was place kicker Matt Stover. With Stover no longer on the roster the Ravens must find a way to replace the fifth leading scorer in NFL history.
Gano comes to the Ravens with a reputation of having a strong, accurate leg. Last year’s Lou Groza award winner led college football in kicks made and field-goal percentage hitting 24-26 kicks for a percentage of 92.3%.
Gano has the potential to be one of the most reliable kickers at the NFL level with a big enough leg to make him a major asset on kickoffs as well as field goal attempts.
5. Dawan Landry
In Rex Ryan’s attacking defense last year, safety Jim Leonhard was a revelation. He finished the season with 141 tackles, a sack, and three picks. Leonhard was taking the place of Dawan Landry who played only two games before suffering a serious neck injury in a 28-10 win over Cleveland last season.
After the 2007 season Landry looked poised to become a stalwart on the Ravens defense. During his second professional season, Landry was second on the team with five picks and was well on his way to becoming one of the best run stuffing safeties in the NFL.
It is going to be very interesting to see how Dawan plays this season coming off of such a terrifying neck injury. Landry will have big shoes to fill as he attempts to replace fan favorite Leonhard, who followed Rex Ryan to New York.
6. Mark Clayton
When Derrick Mason announced his retirement out of the blue last week he tossed a ton of pressure squarely on the shoulders of Mark Clayton.
Since being drafted with the 22nd pick in the 2005 NFL Draft the 5-10 Clayton has been viewed as a bust by many Ravens fans. If Mason does decide to retire Clayton will have no choice but to assume the position as the Ravens #1 receiver.
Clayton showed flashes at the end of 2008, having a five catch 164 yard game against Cincinnati in week 13 and a four catch 128 yard game in week 17 against the Jaguars.
Clayton possesses many skills that parallel Derrick Mason’s; in fact Mason referred to Clayton as “his clone” in his retirement statement. This is a contract year for Clayton though and he must prove he is more than a 40 catch a year receiver if he wants to remain in the purple and black beyond 2009.
7. Joe Flacco
Is it just me or does it seem like Joe Flacco has been in Baltimore for years? Maybe it is because Flacco showed the poise and confidence of a ten year veteran in his rookie season.
After leading the Ravens to the AFC Championship game last season it is going to be tough for Flacco to “wow” Ravens fans this season. I think Flacco could make a leap statistically this season but the potential loss of his primary target may be a hurdle that he will struggle to overcome.
I am looking to see how Flacco is developing into a leader after such a successful rookie season.
8. Lardarius Webb
Michael Oher was the big prize for the Ravens in this years draft but the player I am looking forward to seeing is third round pick Lardarius Webb.
Webb possesses a combination of power and speed that drew comparisons to 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders. Webb has the potential to make a major impact on special team both on kick coverage and in the return game.
Webb has the kind of transcendent physical ability that should really standout in camp and eventually translate into major production on a very good defense.