Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).
Five questions …
1. Is it just me or is Sports Illustrated picking the Ravens to win the Super Bowl a reflection of an AFC without a dominant team? Before you call me Lambasting Luke, I’m still betting on John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco to lead Baltimore to its seventh postseason appearance in eight years and I’ll buy that the Ravens could be very dangerous come January. But this is also a football team that lost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, starting wide receiver, starting tight end, and impact pass rusher in the offseason, and their replacements are currently injured, unproven, or a combination of both. The secondary still lacks depth to make you feel comfortable and the return game is an absolute mess. To be clear, all teams have issues and question marks every season, but starting the season with five of their first seven games on the road isn’t a comfortable proposition with so much early uncertainty. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans have no reason to feel slighted by the national media this summer.
2. Is it just me or should we probably not be surprised about the concern at the wide receiver position beyond Steve Smith? I’m as guilty as anyone for buying into the hype of a young group of receivers competing for roster spots this summer. No one predicted the knee injury to first-round rookie Breshad Perriman to linger so long, but the receivers behind him failed to quell concerns that Smith would be Flacco’s only trusted target entering the year. Perhaps we need to be more realistic in looking where these players came from when projecting how much impact they can bring. Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler were all undrafted, and Michael Campanaro (seventh) and Darren Waller (sixth) are late-round picks. Yes, teams are uncovering more and more gems who are drafted late (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the sixth round) or undrafted entirely (Victor Cruz of the New York Giants), but the Ravens have always struggled to draft and develop useful receivers.
3. Is it just me or could the Ravens’ consideration for giving Brent Urban the designation to return reflect vulnerabilities with their pass rush? The organization remains high on the 6-foot-7 defensive end’s potential, but we’re still talking about someone who’s never played as much as an NFL preseason game. The Ravens hope that rookie Za’Darius Smith can step into the hybrid role formerly occupied by Pernell McPhee, but they were hoping Steven Means could bring pass-rush impact before a groin injury ruined his summer. Teams do often use their I.R.-designated to return spot for role players — Asa Jackson received it last year, for example — but that typically occurs a few weeks into the season when you’re getting to a point where you won’t be able to use it waiting any longer. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are still forces off the edge and Timmy Jernigan shows rush ability when healthy, but the Ravens may view Urban as a high-ceiling — and necessary? — wild card later this year.
4. Is it just me or is it scary to think the Ravens’ only sure thing at running back is currently Justin Forsett? Rookie fourth-round Buck Allen has shown good hands catching passes out of the backfield, but the USC product averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in the preseason and is now the No. 2 running back with Lorenzo Taliaferro out with a sprained MCL. Terrence Magee and Fitz Toussaint had a few solid moments this summer, but neither are the type of back who inspires confidence, making you wonder if Ozzie Newsome needs to explore the market for a veteran addition in the coming days. Taliaferro’s injury was the last thing the Ravens needed with so many questions at receiver and tight end, but the good news is that they should feel confident in finding a veteran to run behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Still, who would have imagined a year ago that Forsett would not only be coming off a Pro Bowl season, but he would represent the only sure thing in the backfield entering 2015?
5. Is it just me or are halftime interviews completely worthless? Harbaugh drew plenty of criticism for his halftime interview in the third preseason game and rightly so as he needs to be better than that with both media and — more importantly — the fans with which he’s indirectly speaking in the process. The coach’s unkind words for Comcast SportsNet’s Brent Harris prompted many to compare him to brother Jim, who is clearly viewed as the more surly Harbaugh. With those sentiments understood, can you recall a time when a halftime interview brought anything memorable besides similar meltdowns by coaches or players? We live in an age where we want as much access as possible, but it seems counterintuitive to ask a coach or player to reflect meaningfully in the midst of competition. Perhaps a compromise would be to interview a coach just before the start of the second half after he’s addressed his team and has calmed his emotions from the first half, but the next halftime interview I hear bringing anything but bland coach speak or an unflattering exchange will be the first one.