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Ravens relish Smith’s final season with unproven receivers behind him

Posted on 10 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will gladly reap the benefits of Steve Smith’s final NFL season while knowing the clock is officially ticking for the young group of receivers behind him to grow up.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection’s announcement came as no surprise to the organization after he had contemplated his future following the divisional playoff loss to New England in January. The news may not have any real bearing on the Ravens’ chances for 2015, but it does create a greater sense of urgency for the likes of first-round rookie Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, and Marlon Brown to take significant steps forward by the end of the season.

With Smith being one of just 12 players in NFL history to record 900 catches, 13,000 receiving yards, and 70 touchdown receptions, the group couldn’t have a better example from which to learn.

“If they’re paying attention – it has to rub off, right?” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’d like to think — especially in that receiver room, but really on our whole team — watch Steve really closely and they watch his competitiveness. The guy has been in this league for so many years at such a high level; he’s doing a lot of things right. How can you not try to learn from him?”

From the moment he arrived in Owings Mills last spring, Smith lived up to the reputation he earned as a fiery competitor with the Carolina Panthers for 13 years. Whether reining in passes from Joe Flacco, mentoring young wideouts, or challenging Baltimore cornerbacks during practices, the 36-year-old instantly made the Ravens a better team and is doing so again this summer, regularly looking like one of the best players on the field despite having nothing to prove after the eighth 1,000-yard receiving season of his career in 2014.

While Baltimore’s young receivers will try to act as sponges absorbing Smith’s lessons as he prepares to walk away from a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration, the veteran doesn’t plan to do anything differently in his 15th and final season.

“No sense of urgency. Anything I do, it’s not anything underlining,” Smith said. “I still teach those guys, still talk to them, [and] we still have fun.”

As if the pressure wasn’t great enough on the rookie Perriman to establish himself as a vertical threat in the passing game to replace ex-Raven Torrey Smith, Baltimore will now hope he’s ready to step into a No. 1 kind of role by season’s end knowing that Steve Smith won’t be around as a safety net in 2016. For now, Baltimore will settle for Perriman simply getting back on the practice field as he’s been nursing a knee injury since July 30.

Smith’s announcement doesn’t carry the same magnitude as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis revealing his intentions to retire just before the start of the 2012 postseason, but the Ravens hope to provide him a similar ending with a Super Bowl championship as a retirement gift.

“We want to go out and let him go out the right way,” said outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was a rookie in Lewis’ final season. “The way he’s so hyped, why wouldn’t you want to play hard for that guy? We want to come together. Let him go out the right way.”

Flacco falters

Monday was Flacco’s worst practice of the summer as he tossed an interception to top cornerback Jimmy Smith during a 7-on-7 drill and was picked off by safety Anthony Levine during a full-team period of practice.

Levine was filling in for starting free safety Kendrick Lewis, who sat out Monday’s practice with a leg issue. The hybrid defensive back broke sharply on a pass over the middle intended for tight end Crockett Gillmore.

Flacco appeared out of sync with many of his throws on Monday while backup Matt Schaub had one of his better practices, a sharp contrast from what we’ve seen through much of the first two weeks of camp.

The eighth-year quarterback did redeem himself with a long strike to rookie Darren Waller, who blew past veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb in coverage during an 11-on-11 period of practice.

Return roulette

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg has said he hopes to see as many return opportunities as possible in the preseason as the Ravens seek kickoff and punt returners to fill the void left behind by Jacoby Jones, who was released in the offseason.

In the Ravens’ first depth chart released last week, Michael Campanaro was listed as the No. 1 punt returner and Asa Jackson as the starting kick returner, but both positions remain wide open.

Campanaro, Jackson, Smith, Webb, rookie free agent DeAndre Carter, and wide receivers Aldrick Robinson and Tom Nelson all took reps returning punts on Monday. Several of those players as well as rookie running back Buck Allen were also fielding kickoffs.

Rosburg has said the preseason games will hold the most weight in determining who will return kicks for the Ravens this season.

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Webb leaves Monday’s practice with hamstring issue

Posted on 10 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb left practice early with a hamstring issue on Monday.

The 29-year-old veteran pulled up after being beaten in coverage by rookie receiver Darren Waller for a long touchdown. A few minutes later, Webb left the field under his own power after stopping to say hello to ex-Ravens cornerback and former teammate Chris Carr, who was a visitor to Monday’s practice.

“Webby had a little grab in his hamstring,” head coach John Harbaugh confirmed after practice, “so we pulled him out.”

Webb missed the first full-squad workout of the summer after initially failing his conditioning test, but he had practiced every day since then. Projected to start opposite No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Webb has struggled in pass coverage at times this summer as he tries to rebound from a disappointing and injury-riddled 2014 campaign.

Rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman was once again absent as he missed his ninth consecutive practice with a knee sprain. The first-round pick is not expected to play in Thursday’s preseason opener against New Orleans.

The Ravens originally projected Perriman to only miss a day or two when he injured his knee during the first full-squad practice of training camp on July 30. Harbaugh joked that he was set up by the training staff when acknowledging the rookie’s longer-than-expected absence.

“I’ve found that it’s impossible to give you any idea when guys are going to be back, OK?” Harbaugh said. “I’ve been wrong on every single guy so far, and I just want you to know — for the fans out there — I repeat what I’m told by the medical people. I’m not doing any diagnoses here. I’m not doing any examinations. I don’t decide or determine [when] we think they’re going to come back.”

In addition to Perriman, safety Kendrick Lewis (leg), defensive linemen Timmy Jernigan (foot) and DeAngelo Tyson (undisclosed), offensive linemen John Urschel (head) and Robert Myers (head) did not take part in Monday’s practice. Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) remain on the physically unable to perform list.

The Ravens saw several players return to practice on Monday, including left guard Kelechi Osemele (foot), wide receiver Marlon Brown (back), tight end Maxx Williams (eye), cornerback Tray Walker (hamstring), and linebacker Zach Thompson. Brown had missed six of Baltimore’s previous seven practices.

Harbaugh also said veteran defensive end Chris Canty sat out the latter portion of Monday’s workout due to fatigue.

In their last “aggressive” practice before their first preseason game, the Ravens held out center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner from 11-on-11 drills, an indication that the pair might not play against the Saints. Both missed spring workouts due to health reasons as Zuttah underwent offseason hip surgery and Wagner was still recovering from a foot injury suffered last December.

The Ravens said they would be conservative with the two starting offensive linemen to begin the summer.

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Twenty Ravens players missing from Friday’s practice

Posted on 07 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were missing 20 players from their 90-man preseason roster as they practiced in shells and shorts on Friday afternoon.

A handful of veterans appeared to be awarded the day off as head coach John Harbaugh periodically does, but several notable players continue to nurse injuries.

Wide receivers Breshad Perriman (knee) and Marlon Brown (back) remain sidelined as the Ravens offense has worked without two of its top four wideouts for most of training camp. The first-round pick Perriman has missed seven straight practices after injuring his knee in the final 20 minutes of the first full-squad practice of the summer while Brown has now sat out five of the last six workouts.

Tight end Maxx Williams was also absent on Friday after being poked in the eye and leaving Thursday’s workout early.

Baltimore continues to deal with injury problems at the guard position with starter Kelechi Osemele (foot) and backups John Urschel (head) and Robert Myers (head) all out. Urschel and Myers both left Thursday’s practice with concussions, according to Harbaugh.

On the defensive side of the ball, defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Brent Urban were new absences due to unspecified reasons. Cornerbacks Tray Walker and Chris Greenwood remain out with hamstring strains.

Outside linebacker Zach Thompson (undisclosed) was also missing again.

The list of veterans believed to be receiving a day off on Friday included wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, cornerback Lardarius Webb, linebackers Daryl Smith and Terrell Suggs, and defensive end Chris Canty.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) remain on the active physically unable to perform list.

Already out for the season with a biceps tear, safety Matt Elam rounded out the collection of 20 players not participating in Friday’s workout.

 

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Ravens wideout Marlon Brown undergoes MRI for back issue

Posted on 05 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens continued to be shorthanded at the wide receiver position with Marlon Brown and Breshad Perriman once again sidelined during Wednesday’s practice.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Brown underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam for a back issue that’s now cost him three practices in the first week of training camp. The third-year wideout sat out on Saturday and was limited during Sunday’s workout before sitting out the Ravens’ last two practices.

Brown initially twisted his back while reaching for a pass and aggravated it during Saturday’s practice.

“We were a little bit worried about it,” said Harbaugh about Brown undergoing an MRI. “There’s nothing in there as far as any kind of a disc [problem] or anything like that. There’s a nerve root issue of some kind. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I hope not very long.”

Perriman missed his fifth consecutive practice while dealing with a knee sprain suffered on the first day of full-squad workouts. Harbaugh initially projected the 2015 first-round pick to only miss a day or two of practice, but the Ravens are being conservative with his knee.

Those injuries have left the Ravens without two of their top four projected receivers as they continue to adjust to new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system.

“It’s just how he gets the range of movement going in there with the bruise and everything like that,” said Harbaugh, who estimated it will take a couple more days until Perriman returns. “I’m anxious. I want him out here right now. He wants to be out here, but [the trainers] are holding him back. It’s probably smart. They’re smarter than Breshad and I are about it — I know that.”

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil returned to the practice field after missing four straight days with Achilles tendinitis. The veteran pass rusher was limited during Wednesday morning’s workout.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hamstring) also returned to practice while fellow cornerbacks Tray Walker (hamstring) and Chris Greenwood are “close” to returning to practice, according to Harbaugh. Outside linebacker Zach Thompson also sat out Wednesday’s practice.

Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen tweaked his foot on Wednesday and will be evaluated further, according to Harbaugh.

The Ravens also made a roster move on Wednesday, waiving defensive tackle Casey Walker and signing Micajah Reynolds. Walker had just been activated from the physically unable to perform list on Monday while Reynolds spent last summer with the Miami Dolphins.

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Ravens shift training camp to M&T Bank Stadium on Monday

Posted on 03 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Giving many rookies their first exposure to playing in an NFL stadium, the Ravens conducted an open training camp practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night.

With an announced 22,111 attending the workout for free, the Ravens were still missing linebacker Elvis Dumervil (Achilles) tendinitis) and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) as both missed their fourth straight practice. The secondary continues to be banged up as well as rookie Tray Walker (hamstring), Rashaan Melvin (hamstring), and Chris Greenwood (undisclosed) were all missing from Monday’s workout.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed after practice that safety Matt Elam would miss the season after suffering a torn biceps on Saturday that will require surgery.

Despite returning to the practice field on a limited basis on Sunday, wide receiver Marlon Brown missed his second workout in three days as he’s nursing a minor back ailment.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) remains on the active physically unable to perform list, but he was running routes in shorts and a t-shirt before the start of Monday’s practice. Safety Terrence Brooks (knee) also remains on the active PUP list.

Defensive tackle Casey Walker (knee) was activated from the PUP list and took part in his first practice of the summer.

Practice highlights

Cornerback Kyle Arrington had a strong night, drawing the ire of Steve Smith after the veteran receiver took exception to the former New England Patriot’s tight coverage on an early pass play. The pair jawed at a couple different points over the remainder of Monday night’s practice.

Despite expectations that he would serve as Baltimore’s nickel back, Arrington has seen extensive on the outside with starter Lardarius Webb moving into the slot when the Ravens use three cornerbacks. Arrington also had an impressive breakup against Kamar Aiken in 1-on-1 drills.

Backup quarterback Matt Schaub continued his early-camp struggles by heaving a pass into triple coverage that was intercepted by rookie free agent Nick Perry.

The Ravens limited No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith’s reps on the stadium turf, but he registered an interception on a Joe Flacco pass that was intended for Michael Campanaro. The starting quarterback was not happy that Campanaro drifted on his sideline pattern, allowing Smith to undercut the route.

Rookie tight end Maxx Williams had arguably his best practice as a professional in beating Arthur Brown in coverage to catch a long touchdown pass from third-string quarterback Bryn Renner. However, Williams later dropped what would have been a touchdown despite having a step on starting linebacker C.J. Mosley.

Kicker Justin Tucker drew one of the loudest ovations of the night when he drilled a 64-yard field goal.

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Aiken making most of chances and other early Ravens observations

Posted on 03 August 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continue to have high hopes for rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but Kamar Aiken has made the most of his early opportunities in training camp.

Already expected to share starting reps with Perriman opposite veteran Steve Smith this summer, Aiken has caught mostly everything thrown his way, including impressive catches on consecutive Matt Schaub passes thrown behind him during Saturday’s workout. Aiken may not impress you with his speed, but all he needs is a hint of daylight to make plays, an encouraging trait for an NFL wide receiver.

With Perriman missing three straight practices due to a minor knee injury, Aiken has looked the part of a starting-caliber wide receiver in this very early stage of camp. I’ve heard more than one person compare Aiken’s skill set to that of Anquan Boldin, which is unfair but it shows how much the Ravens like the young 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver.

Aiken has also developed a really strong rapport with Joe Flacco, which always helps in any competition.

* Speaking of wide receivers, the Ravens could have an interesting decision on their hands with sixth-round rookie Darren Waller.

Upon being drafted, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Waller was certainly viewed as a project after playing in Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack at Georgia Tech, but he shows better route-running ability than you’d expect and looks like a promising red-zone target. It would be a stretch to expect him to play an extensive role as a rookie, but his jump-ball ability might be too appealing to pass up.

In a perfect world, the Ravens would probably like to stash Waller on the practice squad since they have an extensive list of young receivers in camp. But a strong preseason might make him difficult to hide, which could force the organization to keep him on the 53-man roster or find a way to stash him on injured reserve as teams around the league are known to do with developmental players from time to time.

* The Ravens lacked quality depth at cornerback long before a slew of injuries turned a problem into a full-blown crisis in 2014, but the state of the position is much improved a year later.

It goes without saying that Baltimore needs starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb to stay healthy, but the addition of veteran Kyle Arrington and the presence of young corners such as Rashaan Melvin, Tray Walker, and Quinton Pointer make the Ravens better equipped to endure some health issues than they were a year ago.

Despite his reputation for being a cornerback who should strictly operate in the slot, Arrington has performed well in outside coverage, which could allow defensive coordinator Dean Pees to use Webb at the nickel spot where he’s excelled in the past. The Ravens could also use the 6-foot-2 Melvin — who they really like despite his poor showing against Tom Brady in the playoffs — outside if they’re matching up against an opponent with taller wide receivers.

It’s a far cry from a year ago when the Ravens were hoping that the combination of Asa Jackson and ex-Raven Chykie Brown would be enough depth behind Webb and Smith. Now, Jackson is firmly on the bubble with other young cornerbacks showing intriguing upside.

* It probably should come as no surprise after registering 41 receptions out of the backfield in his final season at USC, but rookie running back Buck Allen looks very smooth catching the football in Marc Trestman’s offensive system.

He has made some rookie mistakes, but Allen should find a way to get on the field in some passing situations if he can improve his pass blocking. A simple look at Matt Forte’s numbers over the last two years in Chicago shows how much Trestman likes throwing to running backs, so Allen would appear to be a good fit as a backup and potentially a starter down the road.

Justin Forsett is the clear starter, but the Ravens appear to have two viable options behind him in Allen and second-year running back Lorenzo Taliaferro.

* The depth along the defensive line was no secret entering training camp, but it’s remarkable to see how many NFL-caliber players are competing in this unit.

Expected to start with Haloti Ngata now in Detroit, Timmy Jernigan showed much ability as a pass rusher last year, but he’s played the run effectively early on in camp, even getting the best of the great Marshal Yanda on more than one occasion. He and rookie Carl Davis should eventually form a potent 1-2 punch at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot once occupied by Ngata.

Defensive end Brent Urban has returned from last year’s season-ending knee injury and looks like someone who could wreak havoc in sub packages and even push for Chris Canty’s starting job before the season is over.

The Ravens believe they have 10 defensive linemen in camp who are all capable of playing in the NFL, which will lead to some interesting decisions at the end of the summer.

* Rookie tight end Maxx Williams has looked better in the first week of training camp than he did in the spring, but he still has a lot of work to do to beat out Crockett Gillmore for the starting job.

Gillmore has gotten bigger and has shown improved ability as a receiver while continuing to be a superior blocker. In contrast, Williams needs to get stronger and hasn’t matured physically as he just turned 21 this spring.

Williams will have his opportunities to make plays in the passing game — he made a nice catch on a sideline pass on Saturday as safety Bryden Trawick bounced off him — but he may not be ready to be an every-down player as a rookie. The good news is Gillmore appears poised to take on a much larger role in his second season.

* Schaub has had his moments here and there, but there’s a dramatic drop-off watching him throw compared to Flacco, only confirming that the Ravens will pray that their franchise quarterback remains healthy.

The idea behind signing Schaub was that the offense wouldn’t need to change dramatically in the event of a Flacco injury compared to when Tyrod Tayor was the backup, but his physical tools just aren’t at a level where he needs them to be. In contrast, the Ravens may have been able to steal a win or two with the element of surprise in unleashing Taylor in the right situation at any point over the last few years.

You hope it’s a moot point and that Flacco continues his streak of never missing a game, but Schaub hasn’t inspired much confidence with his play in practices.

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Dumervil, Perriman remain sidelined from Ravens practice

Posted on 01 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens conducted their first live-contact practice of the summer on Saturday with two key players still sidelined with ailments.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee bruise) and veteran linebacker Elvis Dumervil (tendinitis) were absent for the second straight day of practice. Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated Friday that he doesn’t expect the rookie wideout to miss much time, but he would not disclose where Dumervil’s tendinitis is located.

The Sun reported Saturday that Dumervil is dealing with a sore Achilles tendon.

Wide receiver Marlon Brown was missing from Saturday’s practice, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman did not have information on his condition when asked after practice. Harbaugh was not available to reporters on Saturday.

With Perriman and Brown both sidelined, Kamar Aiken worked with the starting unit opposite veteran Steve Smith while Michael Campanaro received more opportunities as the No. 3 receiver.

Other players missing from the workout included linebacker Andrew Bose and the three players who remain on the physically unable to perform list: tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), safety Terrence Brooks (knee), and defensive tackle Casey Walker (knee).

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Wide receivers

Posted on 24 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore wide receivers:

WIDE RECEIVERS
LOCK: Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken
BUBBLE: Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, DeAndre Carter
LONG SHOT: Aldrick Robinson, Daniel Brown, Cam Worthy

Synopsis: The Ravens feature one of the best receivers of the last 20 years in Steve Smith and a deep group of young wideouts with question marks. Even at age 36, Smith figures to still be a productive contributor in the passing game, but Baltimore hopes 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is ready to immediately fill the void left behind by Torrey Smith, who had his flaws but was the much-needed vertical threat to utilize Joe Flacco’s talents. Beyond Steve Smith (1,065 yards and six touchdowns in 2014), the Ravens don’t have another receiver on the current roster who caught more than 24 passes last year. Kamar Aiken figures to push Perriman the most for a starting job and is the favorite to be no worse than the No. 3 receiver, but there are other young receivers who carry intrigue despite the uncertainty.

One to watch: Perriman is bigger and has more speed than Torrey Smith, but the Central Florida product will need to prove he can catch the football consistently and run the rest of the route tree beyond going vertical. Some made too much of Perriman’s drops during spring practices without mentioning that he was receiving extensive reps working with the first-, second-, and third-string offenses, meaning he was bound to drop a few more with a greater number of opportunities than others on the roster. Many observers would agree that Perriman is clearly ahead of where Torrey Smith was at this point as a rookie, which bodes well for his ability to contribute immediately.

One on notice: It wasn’t that Marlon Brown had a poor spring under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, but he made few plays when the ball was thrown his way. Sixteen of Brown’s 24 receptions went for first downs in 2014 as he became a solid third-down target, but the 6-foot-5 receiver doesn’t run good routes and rarely plays as big as his frame. It will be interesting to see if Trestman — a fan of tall wideouts in Chicago — finds a way to unleash Brown in the end zone in a way Gary Kubiak never could. Brown’s roster spot is likely safe, but he needs to have a good summer to be relevant in the offense and to stave off younger options such as Jeremy Butler and Darren Waller from pushing him to the bubble.

Sleeper: He may not be a complete unknown after receiving some hype during the spring, but rookie free agent DeAndre Carter should have a nice opportunity to impress the coaching staff if he can prove himself worthy as an option in the return game, an area that remains a huge question mark for Baltimore. Steve Smith probably didn’t do Carter any favors by comparing him to a young Randall Cobb, but the 5-foot-8 Sacramento State product was extremely successful at the FCS level, catching 163 passes for 2,255 yards and 31 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Hornets. Carter’s best chance to make the roster is as a return specialist, but the college pedigree makes him a dark horse to monitor.

 

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Ravens position battles to watch this summer

Posted on 24 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens possess one of the deepest rosters in the NFL entering the 2015 season, but a number of key position battles will headline the summer as they seek their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

After losing the likes of Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Pernell McPhee, general manager Ozzie Newsome has done a remarkable job reloading, but several questions must be answered before the season begins in Denver on Sept. 13.

Below is an early look at each competition with the first full-squad workout of the summer set for July 30:

Starting wide receiver
The candidates: Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown
Why to be optimistic: The 26th overall pick in the draft, Perriman was projected to go in the middle of the first round by some and is a faster and bigger version of Torrey Smith on paper while Aiken and Brown are still developing and contributed a season ago.
Why to be concerned: Beyond the 13,000-plus receiving yards from 15-year veteran Steve Smith, the Ravens’ other returning wide receivers made a combined 55 catches last year, making you pray that Perriman is ready to contribute immediately.
The favorite: Aiken is the leader in the clubhouse following minicamp and has developed an impressive rapport with Joe Flacco, but Perriman’s skills are too enticing to pass on him as the favorite to start.

Starting tight end
The candidates: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
Why to be optimistic: Even if we assume Pitta will not be cleared to play in 2015, the Ravens invested a 2014 third-round pick in Gillmore and a second-round pick in Williams this spring for a reason.
Why to be concerned: Gillmore caught just 10 passes as a rookie while Williams did not stand out during spring practices and is still trying to adjust to Marc Trestman’s offensive system.
The favorite: After showing improvement late in his rookie year, Gillmore was a surprise of the spring with a better physique and improved ability to make catches in traffic while Williams was very quiet.

Starting defensive end
The candidates: Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban
Why to be optimistic: Canty and Guy were effective holding down the 5-technique position a year ago despite Urban’s knee injury that derailed his anticipated role in the rotation as a rookie.
Why to be concerned: Canty is entering his 11th year and the Ravens deemed him expendable before bringing him back at a cheaper rate while Urban has been unable to shake injuries going back to his collegiate days.
The favorite: Urban was very active during spring practices and could push the veteran starter, but it’s too tough to pick against Canty, who has started 119 games in his NFL career.

Starting safeties
The candidates: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
Why to be optimistic: Hill proved capable in handling a starting job in the second half of 2014 while Lewis was signed for his ability to play deep center, something the Ravens lacked in coverage a year ago.
Why to be concerned: Elam was a clear disappointment in his first two seasons while Brooks is still recovering from a torn ACL, creating legitimate depth concerns going into training camp.
The favorites: The Ravens gave Elam some reps with the starting defense this spring, but it would take substantial improvement for the 2013 first-round pick to overtake Hill or Lewis for starting spots.

Return specialist
The candidates: Michael Campanaro, DeAndre Carter, Asa Jackson, Fitz Toussaint, Lardarius Webb, Steve Smith
Why to be optimistic: Campanaro and Jackson have shown flashes in the return game in very limited opportunities while Webb and Smith bring experience to the equation.
Why to be concerned: It’s difficult to buy either Webb or Smith as a serious candidate to handle the job because of their importance, leaving the real competition to players lacking experience or facing questions about their durability.
The favorite: There isn’t one as this competition lacks candidates to really feel good about at this point, making you wonder if the man to handle the job is even on the current roster.

Backup running back
The candidates: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
Why to be optimistic: The Ravens feel very good about Justin Forsett in a starting role for a second straight year and have invested fourth-round picks in running backs in each of the last two drafts.
Why to be concerned: Taliaferro and Allen have a combined 68 carries in the NFL and are the primary backups behind a 29-year-old back who has one year of experience as a full-time back since college.
The favorite: Last month, Allen would have been my choice because of the versatility he showed in college, but a slimmed-down Taliaferro moved well this spring and has an experience edge for now.

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Plenty of intrigue surrounding Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can easily be fooled by what you observe during spring football practice, but the Ravens’ young group of wide receivers displayed much to like over the last month.

It would be unwise to guarantee that the Ravens won’t experience any growing pains at the position following the free-agent departure of Torrey Smith, but there are many reasons to be intrigued with the upside of the group. More than a few showed their talents before the Ravens wrapped up their mandatory minicamp on Thursday, now turning their attention toward the start of training camp in less than six weeks.

“They come in all different sizes, certainly, and we have them here,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman of the young receivers. “But at the end of the day, it’s the guys that are really specialists that know how to get off the line and get open, and particularly when it’s bump-and-run, because that’s when it’s usually crunch time.”

Of course, introducing the threat of contact will be the real test as countless receivers over the years have shown ability while knowing they aren’t about to be leveled by a hard-hitting defensive back or linebacker over the middle. This time of the year always favors the offense with defensive players lagging behind until the pads serve as the equalizer beginning in late July.

Perhaps the most comforting aspect about the group that allows so much optimism is the man who spent the entire spring mentoring them while continuing to look like the best player on the field in the process.

While other notable veterans skipped voluntary organized team activities and didn’t arrive in Owings Mills until this week’s mandatory minicamp, the 36-year-old Steve Smith spent the last month working with the likes of rookies Breshad Perriman and Darren Waller as well as helping young receivers such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown. It’s easy to like your potential at a position when a seasoned commodity with five Pro Bowl selections and 13,000 receiving yards remains at the head of the class.

“He put in the time physically and he put in the time mentally to really grasp the changes that we were making and further enhance how he understood this offense,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said. “And, when he pulls a young guy aside, they’re going to listen. And when they see his work ethic, they better listen. His experience and his leadership has been invaluable not only for the receivers but for our entire team.”

While Smith continues to lead the way at the position, there were three young receivers who stood out this spring in particular.

Selected with the 26th overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft, Perriman has been as advertised with his combination of size and speed, and he appears to be ahead of where Torrey Smith was at this point in his rookie season. The Ravens made no secret about their desire to work him hard this spring as the Central Florida product consistently took reps with the first, second, and third-team offenses during practices, often battling fatigue to make sensational catches.

He wasn’t perfect as he suffered some drops from time to time — it hasn’t been a chronic issue — but the 6-foot-2 rookie feels good about his place in Trestman’s offense and adjusted well to the speed of the game when the full squad reported for practices this past week.

“I just like how they have the ability to move all the receivers around,” Perriman said. “For me, I’m decent at going deep, but at the same time, they have the ability to move me around and put all the receivers in different positions. Everyone can be a slot receiver and run different routes. That’s what I like about it.”

Perriman has drawn the outside attention as the team’s first-round draft pick, but Aiken may have impressed the most this spring with his consistency and strong rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco. After rising from anonymity to make last year’s roster, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Aiken caught 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season while adding another touchdown reception in the playoffs.

It would be premature — and unfair — to label Aiken a poor man’s Anquan Boldin, but perhaps he could be the poor man’s poor man’s version of the former Baltimore receiver, showing good strength and an ability to make catches in traffic. He is the current leader in the clubhouse to start opposite Smith — the Ravens almost always defer to their veterans over rookies to begin preseason competitions — but Aiken figures to be a meaningful part of the passing game, regardless of where he lands on the depth chart by the time September rolls around.

Aiken said this spring that he has never lacked confidence, but last year’s success has made him comfortable in preparing to just be himself instead of trying to do too much to make the roster as he was forced to do earlier in his career. Whether beginning the year as a starter or succumbing to Perriman, Aiken is confident he’s a good fit in a critical portion of the field.

“I like going across the middle, so I’ve never feared a route going across the middle,” Aiken said. “I feel like that’s where you make your money at. But [the coaches] do a lot of good things as far as mix and matching, just putting us in different areas [where we are] able to run different routes.”

While Perriman and Aiken have already become household names for Ravens fans, the biggest wild card could end up being Jeremy Butler, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after turning a few heads during last summer’s training camp. It wasn’t a coincidence that Baltimore took advantage of Butler’s late-summer shoulder injury to stash him on IR, which essentially gave the Tennessee-Martin product a “redshirt” season to learn and improve.

At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Butler earned plenty of praise for his consistent hands over the last month. And while there have been many young players over the years to have good springs before disappearing in training camp and the preseason, it’s worth paying attention to Butler this summer after quiet acclaim from coaches last year and the compliments offered by Smith and Flacco this week.

If anything, Butler figures to offer some strong competition for Aiken in the slot as he occasionally received some first-team reps over these last few weeks.

“He might have had 1,500 yards in a three-day minicamp. He was incredible,” Flacco said. “He caught the ball extremely well. [He has] little things here and there to work on, but the biggest thing is catching the ball, and I think these guys are doing a really good job of that.”

With the ageless veteran Smith leading the way, the Ravens hope they’ll face some difficult decisions as far as how many receivers they will be able to keep. Perriman is an obvious lock and Aiken is an excellent bet, but how the depth chart plays out after that is anyone’s guess.

You’re always waiting for the 6-foot-5 Brown to take the next step after an impressive 2013 rookie season, but he didn’t do much to stand out this spring — good or bad — and you’d like to see him better utilize his massive frame, especially inside the red zone.

Campanaro has flashed potential as a return man and at receiver, but his latest quadriceps injury creates more doubt about his ability to stay on the field.

A sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-6 Waller has shown promise, but will he develop quickly enough to justify a roster spot as a rookie?

Can rookie free agent DeAndre Carter stand out as a receiver to augment his chances for winning a roster spot and serving as a return specialist?

Of course, not all of these names will pan out, but it’s tough not to like the Ravens’ chances to break camp with a group of young receivers having room to grow, especially with a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career throwing to them. Smith is looking forward to having a front-row seat for the battles this summer as he prepares for his 15th NFL season.

“It’s very competitive,” Smith said. “I’m actually going to sit back and watch it and just root for those guys and see them make plays.”

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