With the Ravens counting down to their preseason opener against Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. The Ravens won’t dare exhale until Joe Flacco is back on the practice field without incident, but a solid performance from Ryan Mallett against Washington would quell some short-term concerns. He’s practiced better of late, but a poor outing will only spark more questions about the still-unsigned Colin Kaepernick.
2. Flacco has already missed nearly two weeks of practice, which is substantial for an offense that was tweaked in the offseason. He also hasn’t been able to build much rapport with Jeremy Maclin. The lost time isn’t insurmountable, but it certainly sets up for some early-season growing pains.
3. The Ravens having strong defensive line depth is nothing new, but it’s impressive to consider the upside at such little cost beyond standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Surprising rookie free agent Patrick Ricard has only complicated what could be some tough roster decisions.
4. The fullback position remains a work in progress with running backs coach Thomas Hammock offering a lukewarm assessment of Lorenzo Taliaferro’s performance at his new spot. This spot takes on more significance with the losses sustained at the tight end position since the spring.
5. Tony Jefferson is impressive when playing downhill toward the line of scrimmage, but he looks rather ordinary in deeper coverage. I like the idea of using him as a dime linebacker in passing situations, but injuries at the nickel have forced Lardarius Webb to play there instead of at safety.
6. As if rookie free agents Quincy Adeboyejo and Tim White haven’t received enough early-camp attention as receivers, Jerry Rosburg loudly praised their efforts as gunners on the punt team during Tuesday’s practice. Standing out on special teams would boost their roster chances even more.
7. To this point, Brent Urban hasn’t been seriously challenged for the 5-technique spot as he’s played the run well and has served as an inside rusher in sub packages. Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley have their work cut out for them to crack the game-day rotation.
8. Buck Allen was one of the bigger disappointments of the 2016 campaign, but he has run with more confidence and aggression this summer. The Kenneth Dixon injury created an opportunity, so it will be interesting to see whether he takes advantage in the preseason.
9. A major point of emphasis for the running backs has been pass protection as the Ravens were forced to use former fullback Kyle Juszczyk in single-back sets last year because their young tailbacks struggled mightily. Terrance West and Allen need to be much better in that area.
10. Jimmy Smith missed a few practices with an undisclosed injury, which reminded just how critical he is to the defense. Yes, having Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey should prevent a 2016-like collapse, but this defense needs to be special and likely won’t be if Smith can’t stay on the field.
11. Kamalei Correa is the favorite to start at the inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, but keep an eye on the nickel package where Patrick Onwuasor has also received some reps. The dime package could come into play as well if they don’t find a reliable three-down linebacker.
12. I recommend Robert Mays’ recent piece on Marshal Yanda, who quietly continues building his case as one of the best five or six players in franchise history. A couple more Pro Bowl selections would put the 32-year-old in the Hall of Fame discussion at the very least.