In exactly two weeks, the Baltimore Ravens will play their first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Until then, we have training camp to diagnose the Ravens. Training camp will not be without intense competitions as the team has a few holes to fill.
Let’s start with the wide receiver position.
Anquan Boldin’s departure from Baltimore to San Francisco was well documented. Boldin was a stud in the postseason. Even if he wasn’t open, he found ways to make catches in clutch moments. But, the Ravens decided to move on and traded Boldin to the 49ers for a late round draft pick.
As of now, Jacoby Jones is projected to play across from Torrey Smith, the team’s unquestioned number one receiver. Behind Jones, the Ravens don’t have many options. Tandon Doss hasn’t proven anything and Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson are project players. True, Deonte Thompson has great physical abilities but those will only take him so far. In addition, Jones’s impact on the offense is a question mark in itself. When faced with a larger role in Houston, Jones struggled. If Jones struggled with Andre Johnson, how productive can he be with Torrey Smith?
Replacing Boldin’s production will fall on the shoulders of Dennis Pitta. Pitta is a versatile tight end that has played out wide at times throughout his short career. I expect to see Pitta play a hybrid role this season, switching between a slot receiver and tight end. Playing in the slot will allow Ed Dickson to make more of an impact in the passing game. Don’t forget, before Pitta broke out last season, Dickson had 54 receptions for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011.
If that weren’t enough, the Ravens can throw rookie Kyle Juszczyk into the picture. Juszczyk won’t play the role of a traditional full in Jim Caldwell’s offense. Therefore, Caldwell could use him as a third tight end in certain packages.
Matt Birk was an unheralded piece to the Ravens postseason run. With the offensive line struggling, the Ravens made some changes. Bryant McKinnie was plugged in at left take. This forced Michael Oher to the right side and Kelechi Osemele to left guard. Matt Birk held the offensive line together and redeemed himself after a putrid performance against the Patriots and Vince Wilfork in the 2011 AFC Championship.
Replacing Birk will be just as important as replacing Boldin. Gino Gradkowski is the favorite thus far but veteran AQ Shipley could take the job.
When the Ravens line up against the Broncos, expect Gradkowski to be the starter. Gradkowski was drafted to be the eventual replacement to Birk and played well in spot duty last season.
As for Joe Flacco, many are projecting a regression. Well, I don’t buy that for a second. An average completion percentage is a common argument against Joe Flacco. Flacco’s completion percentage last season ranked 19th in the league at 59.7 percent. But, that must be taken in context. Joe’s strength is down field passing which doesn’t bode well for any quarterback’s completion percentage.
Plus, did you see Joe Flacco in Jim Caldwell’s offense? Caldwell took over in week 15 against the Broncos. While Flacco struggled against the Broncos, he heated up against the Giants and didn’t look back. Flacco only threw one interception to 15 touchdowns with Caldwell calling plays.
The Ravens offense has a lot of potential this season. Although Boldin and Birk are gone, their replacements have the ability to step in and produce. Flacco has the opportunity to make his first Pro Bowl and with him at the helm, the Ravens will always have a chance to win another Super Bowl.