In 2012 Ravens fans saw a lot of finales, 2013 on the other hand, there will be a lot of firsts. We saw certain players outplay their monetary value, we saw other players finish out legendary runs in town, and we saw Joe prove that he is good enough.
Although I could relive this version of the past every year, it’s a lot more interesting to look ahead to the future. So what will the firsts be this year for the Purple and Black?
The obvious first that comes to mind is the man, the myth, the legend, Ray Lewis; will not be at Baltimore Ravens training camp for the first time in team history. The play of Ray in the Superbowl definitely left something to be desired as it was apparent that he had lost a step but his play is not necessarily what the Ravens need to replace. What needs to be replaced is the leadership of #52. Baltimore just may have had that leader all along. Terrell Suggs has always been known as the class clown and the joker of the locker room, but reports from mini camp showed a more down to business Terrell Suggs. While the offense has no questions about leadership with a Superbowl MVP on its side, the defense is a different story after losing the likes of 27 years in NFL experience between two players. Without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, John Harbaugh will need Terrell Suggs to step up not only his play, but also his leadership role. Watch through training camp to see how Suggs adapts to this new role.
Elvis Dumervil, Michael Huff, Chris Canty, and Marcus Spears will all sport the Purple and Black for the first time. My mouth is watering already just thinking about the combination of Dumervil and a healthy Terrell Suggs opposite sides from one another. In 2011 the two combined for a total of 23 sacks (Elvis Dumervil missed 2 games that season) and are both a terror for opposing Quarterbacks. Chris Canty has been battling injuries in New York last year missing 7 games still accruing 3 sacks but is very versatile and can play both Defensive End as well as Tackle. Marcus Spears looks as though he will be a depth player for the Ravens considering he wasn’t starting for the Cowboys and let’s face it, the Cowboys are a joke. The veteran addition to the secondary for the Ravens? Michael Huff; a multi-functional player who can play corner, safety, and nickel. I don’t put much stock in Huff’s past mainly because players go to Oakland and die a terrible, ugly football players death- perennial losing. When I watched Michael Huff’s press conference which welcomed him to the Ravens I loved everything I heard from the guy. He said all the right things and welcomed the challenge of joining the legacy that comes with becoming a defensive player on this team. I welcome the idea of giving a player who was stuck on a bad team, with bad coaching, and a bad defensive scheme an opportunity to show his true colors.
Just like with every season, there are rookies. This years draft picks will be asked to make an immediate impact on this football team, and I think they have what it takes. Matt Elam the Safety out of Florida is all of 5-10, 206 but hits like a Linebacker and has great open field skills. Elam also has underrated ball skills in my opinion and will be a force in the run game. I can’t wait for training camp to get started so we can see this kid start getting some real action. He also hauled in a pick against Joe Flacco in mni-camp.
Filling the void at Linebacker for the Ravens is 6-1, 242 pounder Arthur Brown (Kansas State), yes, a little undersized but he is tenacious when attacking the ball. He also shows the ability to cover the mid-range routes and Tight Ends over the middle and in the flat (something this team was definitely lacking). It’s going to be interesting to see if Arthur Brown is going to be the player who is receiving the plays from the sideline or if that duty will be placed on Jameel McClain.
Ray Rice will have a rookie Fullback to break in this year. The Ravens drafted Kyle Juszczyk in the 4th round out Harvard (You gotta have a Harvard guy right?!) which lead to the eventual release of Vonta Leach. I am of the belief that that this offense does not need a full time 2 back set and more importantly could not pay a Fullback 4 million dollars. Although Juszczyk may not be able to drop the hammer like Leach, he will definitely excel athletically and be a threat to the defense in the pass game out of the backfield. I’m just curious to see if the lead blocker out of Harvard will be ready to make an impact right out of the gate.
2013 will also give Torrey Smith his first opportunity to be the number one wide out with no Anquan Boldin on his side. This is the Ravens biggest question at this point, which with all the turnover from 2012, isn’t so bad. I would be lying though if I said this wasn’t my largest concern entering the season. Ozzie Newsome says he’s excited for the competition between Tandon Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson, and Aaron Mellette.
-Tandon Doss was drafted in 2011 out of Indiana, since then, he has 7 receptions for just 123 yards. There was a point in the Wild Card game against the Colts where Joe Flacco tried to connect with Doss two separate times in the end zone, the 2nd year receiver got his hands on both passes and brought down neither. Now this doesn’t exactly inspire hope for Ravens fans all around especially because when Tandon Doss was drafted he was known for his hands and not his speed.
-David Reed is absolutely terrible and has no business setting foot into the castle at all. In fact, I’m fully convinced that David Reed has incriminating photos of someone in the organization and that’s why he has kept his job this long.
-LaQuan Williams is a nice special teams player but has just 4 catches for 46 yards since being drafted in 2011 with no catches last year. I am interested to see if Williams can make a small impact as a number 4 option for Joe Flacco.
-In the category of “prove your worth“… Tommy Streeter and Aaron Mellette. Tommy Streeter is a 6th round pick of 2012 who showed nothing but brick hands in last years training camp. There is no disputing the speed of Tommy Streeter, but can his hands keep up with his legs? Aaron Mellette just needs to show the Ravens he’s got potential and can grow, he impressed a few people in mini-camp as well. Mellette is not known for his speed but his hands and physical play along with jump ball ability. Let’s be honest though the Ravens don’t need more speed on the corners with Torrey and Jacoby, they need sure hands and a route runner.
-Deonte Thompson has the best opportunity for success in 2013. He played in the final game of the regular season last year against the Bengals in a contest which the Ravens sat the majority of their starters. Thompson had 4 receptions for 26 yards. Although he had extremely limited playing time in 2012 he took advantage of the preseason catching 10 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.
So prospects are good… This is the NFL though, there’s not time to groom players in the minor’s. Jim Caldwell is going to have to take advantage of existing talent. I think the Ravens are going to be using a lot more 2 Tight End sets with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. If Ed Dickson can show consistent production Anquan Boldin may be thoughts of the past. Dickson did have trouble with drops late in the season but in the Playoffs, he stepped up. 6 receptions for 90 yards hauling in some key first downs that helped the Ravens to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The eye test on Dennis Pitta is sufficient enough, he is one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets and has proven that he can be a consistent contributor to the Ravens offense. If you’re Jim Caldwell, Jacoby Jones has one obvious value that you need to figure out how to take advantage of on a game to game basis. Speed. Caldwell needs to create mismatches with Jacoby Jones on the outside and figure out how to keep safety help away from his side of the field. This is where that mix of run and pass and play-action could allow Jacoby to have a huge season.
Another key to look for in training camp will be to see how Lardarius Webb looks and the leadership role he will take on with a young secondary.
From a panic ridden fanbase to being awed by Ozzie Newsome’s ability to rebuild on the fly. Training camp 2013 will have plenty of story lines… And by the way did I mention, the Ravens have the added pressure of defending the crown?