Breaking Down Camp

Here's What Fans Need To Know Before Things Kick Off

July 26, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

TOP STORY LINES

Question marks at wide receiver:

The Ravens are hoping Derrick Mason (right) changes his mind about retiring. Some NFL observers predict the team's top receiver will return about the middle of training camp. If he doesn't, this position becomes a major concern for quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense. The Ravens' top five receivers excluding Mason - Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, Kelley Washington and Drew Bennett - combined for 56 catches and four touchdowns last season.

"Camp Hardball" Part II:

When John Harbaugh (left) replaced Brian Billick last year, he knew he had to toughen up this team. His first camp opened with nine straight days of practice and featured hard-hitting drills. Now that Harbaugh has placed his stamp on the Ravens, he needs to continue the "Camp Hardball" approach. The Ravens, who haven't had back-to-back playoff seasons since 2000 and 2001, need consistency.

Unveiling of the new cornerbacks:

No position underwent more change this offseason. Domonique Foxworth, the first free agent signed this year by the Ravens, teams with Fabian Washington to form one of the fastest tandems in the NFL. The Ravens added Chris Carr (right) later in free agency and drafted Lardarius Webb in the third round. Plus, the defense still has Samari Rolle and Frank Walker. With all this depth, it makes you wonder whether any of these cornerbacks can play receiver.

Greg Mattison replaces Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator:

Mattison (left) has tweaked Ryan's playbook, but he still wants this defense to remain aggressive and unpredictable. One of the reasons Harbaugh promoted Mattison from linebackers coach was his relationship with the players. They respect Mattison's old-school approach to fundamentals and details. So, don't expect a major drop-off here. With all this talent - from Ed Reed to Ray Lewis to Haloti Ngata - this has the makings of a top-10 defense again.

Ed Reed's health status:

The Pro Bowl free safety missed all of training camp and the preseason last year with a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder. After a slow start in 2008, he finished with eight interceptions in his last six regular-season games and returned one for a touchdown in the playoffs. But the injury still never allowed him to be as physical as in previous seasons. Whether he participates in camp this year is anyone's guess.

POSITION BATTLES

Running back: Ray Rice vs. Willis McGahee:

Rice seems to have the advantage after taking most of the snaps this offseason because McGahee was recovering from offseason knee surgery. A dual threat, Rice seems to fit Cam Cameron's offense because he can make plays whether he's running or catching the ball. But don't count out McGahee, who can be one of the best running backs in the league when healthy and motivated.

Kicker: Steve Hauschka vs. Graham Gano:

The Ravens took a big risk when they chose not to re-sign Matt Stover this offseason. Hauschka and Gano have held their own during the minicamps, but they need to make their marks in the preseason games. There's no question that these young kickers have stronger legs than Stover. The challenge is being as consistent as Stover (who is the third-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history).

Inside linebacker: Tavares Gooden vs. Jameel McClain:

Gooden is the favorite heading into camp to take Bart Scott's spot. A third-round pick from a year ago, he stood out in minicamps with his ability to run to the ball. McClain is still feeling his way after switching from outside linebacker this offseason, which was one of the first moves by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Either way, several players (from Jamie Sharper to Ed Hartwell to Tommy Polley to Bart Scott) have improved their reputations by playing next to Ray Lewis.

NEWCOMERS

OT Michael Oher:

The first-round pick out of Mississippi is the prototypical offensive tackle. He's big, strong and athletic. Oher looks like he'll start at right tackle in training camp ... and for many years to come.

CB Domonique Foxworth:

The Baltimore native signed a four-year deal worth $27.2 million, and he'll need to validate this investment. In four seasons, Foxworth has made only 28 starts and four interceptions.

C Matt Birk:

The six-time Pro Bowl center from the Minnesota Vikings doesn't have the upside of Jason Brown, last year's starter for the Ravens. But Birk is a tough and smart leader who should be a perfect fit for a young offensive line.

DEPARTURES

K Matt Stover:

There is a chance the Ravens could bring back the only place-kicker in team history. But he is only a fallback option at this point.

CB Chris McAlister:

Sure, after knocking heads with Harbaugh and getting placed on injured reserve in October, it seems like McAlister has been gone for a while. It's still surprising that he has yet to sign with anyone.

LB Bart Scott:

The loquacious linebacker will be missed as much in the locker room as on the field. Like Adalius Thomas, Scott has left but will always be a Raven.

VETERANS LOOKING TO REBOUND

TE Todd Heap:

A lower-back injury sidelined him for most of the offseason. Cameron said Heap needs to be healthy and practice in training camp if he wants to improve on last year's disappointing numbers (35 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns).

G Marshal Yanda:

The rugged third-year veteran insists that he is on schedule to play this season, but he might have to start training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Yanda tore the anterior cruciate, medial and posterior collateral ligaments in his right knee in Week 6 last season at Indianapolis. He needed separate operations to repair the damage, the second Jan. 12 for his ACL.

KR-PR Yamon Figurs:

The 2007 third-round pick watched the Ravens add two returners, Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb, this offseason. Figurs is also rarely mentioned by coaches when talking about the wide receiver position. It appears Figurs has to find a way to get noticed in this camp if he wants to stay with the Ravens.

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