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.