Ravens Thoughts As Training Camp Nears: Part 1 The Offense
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a 5-11 injury riddled season. As Training Camp and another season nears, what are appropriate expectations for the Ravens and this forthcoming 2016 season?
The latest NFL odds have the Ravens finishing 3rd in the AFC North behind Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. In this two part series (starting with the offense), we will review the roster further to see if we agree with our friends in the desert.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
31 year old Joe Flacco is beginning his 9th season in the NFL. Last year was the first time he failed to start every game of a season. Limited to 10 games in 2015 with an ACL injury, Flacco is now expected to be ready for the start of Training Camp.
Over the last x amount of years, there has been a tradition locally and Nationally to discuss, “Is Flacco elite?“
As last year illustrated, that discussion is mostly meaningless. It doesn’t matter where on the overall hierarchy of NFL QB’s one places Flacco. What matters is that Flacco is the definition of a franchise QB, and him having previously consistently been available during his career is a large component of why the Ravens advanced to the playoffs 6 times in his first 7 years as QB.
It’s understood that evaluating a QB by wins and losses isn’t much different than judging a MLB pitcher by the same criteria. A QB could play well and his team can lose. He can play poorly, and his team can at-times overcome that. We’ve seen enough quality post-season games from Flacco – particularly on the road – to believe he’s part of the group (however large you want to say the group is) capable of playoff success.
Having Flacco back under center for the Ravens is one immediate reason to believe team improvement is possible.
With the release of Eugene Monroe, it appears that Ronnie Stanley at LT, Jeremy Zuttah at C, Marshall Yanda at RG, and Ricky Wagner at RT have strong grasps on starting positions. The to-be-determined 5th starter at LG, currently figures to be one of Vlad Ducasse, John Urschel, and Ryan Jensen.
The primary depth being the two Guards who don’t start, and Alex Lewis.
How do you feel about this group?
There has been plenty of discussion among our Analysts here at BSL about what Stanley’s ultimate ceiling will prove to be. I expect Stanley will be a productive player for the Ravens. Not really on a ledge there, we’re talking about the 6th overall player in the Draft. Of course he should be expected to be an asset.
When talking long-term the question is will be a solid-starter, a regular All-Pro, or something in-between?
His 2016 season will be interesting. Yes, he’s a Rookie, but if you are starting at LT, you have to perform. He’ll be going through an adjustment period, but still expected to more than hold his own. Monroe played in just 6 games last year, and only got through 3. If Stanley can line-up weekly, that’s a step-up, even with anticipated Rookie moments.
We talked about the possible trio at LG. None of them are Kelechi Osemele, who signed a massive deal with Oakland this Winter.
Do any gains the Ravens get from Stanley at LT, get erased by not having KO this year at LG?
Zuttah is fine. Yanda is elite for his position.
What is Wagner?
Some viewed him as one of the Top 5-10 RT’s after 2014.
Last year the discussion with Wagner was focused on regression.
I think there is merit to the comments of my colleague Gabe Ferguson, who has suggested that the Ravens bring in Will Beatty, and Jake Long in for looks as Tackle depth.
I’m in agreement with another colleague – Mike Randall – that the Ravens are likely to keep 3 RB’s, and that those RB’s will be Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, and the Rookie Kenneth Dixon. It’s possible a 4th RB could join that trio, but roster crunch elsewhere makes me think that is unlikely.
Forsett earned his way to the Pro Bowl after his excellent 2014 season. During that year, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and also had 44 receptions out of the backfield.
I don’t think what we saw was an illusion. He was used well, and he’s always had nice speed.
I also don’t think the step-back he had last year (prior to his injury) was a surprise. Coming out of California in 2008, he was a 7th round selection. He languished for years as a journeyman who was used sparingly. There was a reason for that.
Despite him turning 31 in October, I’m not worried about Forsett’s age. The one benefit of all those years of limited use, is that his legs should remain fresh.
Going back to his ’14 season, there were only 4 games where he had 20 or more carries. I would expect similar usage during ’16.
Allen has his supporters. He looked good as a receiving back at the end of last year. That included a 12 reception, 107 yard day at Miami last December. I’m curious to see what the reports are on him this Summer. Players often seem to make a jump going into their second year. He gained some experience last year, had the Winter to work on improving physically.
My overall impression last year was that he represented quality depth, but that I didn’t see a future starter.
For Louisiana Tech this past year, Dixon had 7 games with at-least 19 carries. He also had some success catching the ball. The first thing I’ll be looking to hear about him, is his ability with blitz pick-up. If he’s a capable blocker, he has a chance to get on the field quickly.
The highlight videos for Dixon look encouraging enough that I can envision him becoming the starter at some point, but have to see how his burst and speeds translates to an NFL field and competition.
Kyle Juszczyk is entering his 4th year in the league. He’s a player whose versatility is easy to enjoy. He can be deployed in multiple fashions. Will be interesting to see how he’s utilized this year, in-conjunction with the TE’s. Last year his reception total jumped to 41, after 19 grabs in 2014.
Colleague Shawn Brubaker recently looked at the TE’s in some detail here.
I was of the opinion the Ben Watson signing made a lot of sense at the time, when there was an abundance of question of if Crockett Gillmore would be available to start the year.
Having progressed ahead of schedule, Gillmore looks ready to go. When he was drafted, I wondered if he would be mostly a blocking TE at his size. Instead we’ve seen a guy with some fluidity, and power. He averaged a nice 7.5 Yards After Catch last year on his 47 grabs.
Watson is going to get plenty of time. A guy who had had 74 receptions (on 109 targets) last year, didn’t sign here to be a decoy.
The general comments I had about Allen above, I can also make for Maxx Williams. I’m interested to see the gains in Williams’ game this Summer. I thought he looked like a good roster piece. I didn’t see great size or speed. I definitely didn’t see a future star. Do think he can become a capable starter. With Watson and Gillmore in-front of him, how many targets does he get this year?
At the end of the 2012 season, Dennis Pitta was on the verge of becoming one of the league’s better TE’s. In July 2013, Pitta suffered his first dislocated and fractured hip. In February 2014, the Ravens and Pitta agreed to a 5 year $32M extension. In September ’14, he again dislocated his right hip. In November 2015, the Ravens announced that doctors had informed Pitta it was not safe for him to resume his career.
Now here in 2016, Pitta’s performed without restrictions in the OTA’s and Minicamp.
As long as he is on the field, he is going to get targets from his friend Flacco.
It’s a great story, and I think all Ravens fans will be rooting for him. Sure it’s been difficult mentally for him. That said, can anyone envision him staying healthy?
Randall’s current depth chart has the Ravens keeping 6 WR’s. No surprises with his selections of Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, and Chris Moore.
Perriman was recently feared lost for the 2016 Season. Luckily, the Ravens dodged that bullet, but he still has recovering to do. What one has to wonder, is how Perriman individually, and the Ravens offense as a whole will be impacted if the 2nd year WR misses most of Training Camp and the Exhibition season? Obviously Perriman didn’t get a lot of reps last year. If he misses Training Camp this year, only to be healthy around the start of the season; how long will it take for him to build some rapport with Flacco? Will he have to begin the year on the PUP list?
I guess we will worry about that later. For now, I remain pleased that it currently looks like he will be able to contribute at some point this year.
Get on the field, show that elite speed, and take the top off the defense. Not expecting some refined route runner, and that’s fine. Just make defenses have to account for you on the field, and that will help open things up for others underneath.
The nice thing the Ravens did this off-season, was build some depth. When we thought Perriman was done for the year, we felt bad for him, but pretty much immediately our minds went to, “Next man up.” Wallace has always been a speed threat, and Moore showed an ability to get behind a defense with Cincinnati at the collegiate level.
I’m hopeful that sooner than later, the Ravens will be able to line up Perriman and Wallace opposite of each other. There should be 1&1 match-ups somewhere that the Ravens can exploit.
Aiken took advantage of the injuries in-front of him last year, and grew week-to-week as he made the most of his opportunity. Now you have a guy that has the confidence of having made plays at this level, as your 3rd or 4th option. That’s encouraging.
I’m not real sure what can be expected from Smith Sr. this year. Well, that’s not completely true. When he’s on the field, you can expect him to play with intensity, passion, and purpose. Having that example available, is good for everyone. It should also be remembered he was playing at a quality level prior to his injury last year. 46 grabs over 7 games, with his YPC and YAC averages increased from 2014.
Do think it’s reasonable to wonder how the 37 year old will look physically coming off the Achilles. Mentally, as we said, we expect him to a plus when he’s on the field during game conditions. What about with practice, and during Camp? Will he hold his motivation in that regard? He had planned on retiring last year after all.
I completely believe in Campanaro’s abilities, but ultimately one of the most important aspects with a player is availability. I firmly believe that if Campanaro can every consistently stay on the field, he will make plays. I also think he’s in danger of not making this 2016 team. There is a lot to like about Keenan Reynolds, and Reynolds can be deployed similarly.
Maybe if Perriman does begin the year on the PUP, there is room for both players to make the roster to begin the year.
Overall Offensive Thoughts:
The Baltimore Ravens have a lot of offensive players capable of being positive contributors. Due to that, there should be an ability to adjust weekly to the opposition, and take advantage of what the defense is giving you.
What I think is lacking though, is elite play-makers. Guys that will consistently win 1&1 match-ups against anyone. Guys that opposing defenses have to adjust their scheme to account for. Guys that each week you can anticipate giving you 100 yards rushing, 100 yards receiving, etc.
I don’t see the offensive line necessarily being a liability, but I don’t see it being a strength either.
I think the RB’s should be productive.
How the 4-headed TE Monster works out, will be interesting to watch. How many are active weekly? What creative things can you do with them scheme wise?
The WR’s have some depth, and diversity of skills.
Flacco is back, and there is continuity with the offense he returns to. If the Ravens reach the Playoffs for the 7th time in 9 years, the primary reason figures to be Baltimore’s QB. And to be fair to his critics, if the Ravens don’t reach the post-season for the 3rd time in 4 years; the primary reason would also figure to be Joe.
In Part 2 we will look at the Defense, and give some initial thoughts on the schedule.
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.
You can reach him via email at [email protected].