Well Positioned To Contend


Mike Preston Assesses The Ravens

Quarterback Offensive Line Defensive Line

August 21, 2009|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,mike.preston@baltsun.com

When the Ravens break training camp Saturday morning, they will have spent 27 days at McDaniel College in Westminster trying to figure out this team.

They've learned quite a lot, and certainly they know more than when they started in late July. Because of their overall depth, the Ravens seem ready to make a second consecutive run deep into the postseason.

Team chemistry is at an all-time high, except for the second half of the 2000 season, when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. But before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hands owner Steve Bisciotti the Lombardi Trophy, the Ravens still have some major holes to fill.

Today, we break down the Ravens position by position and assess what happened in training camp and what needs to happen during the regular season:

QUARTERBACK:: Second-year starter Joe Flacco struggled during the first couple of weeks in training camp but has rebounded well in the past two. Backup Troy Smith was steady and improved throughout. The Ravens threw a lot at Flacco scheme-wise, and they want him to make tighter throws in the middle of the field, both on intermediate and long passes. The good thing is that they now have a better barometer of Flacco's strengths and will shape the game plan around them.

RUNNING BACKS:: Second-year running back Ray Rice added bulk and ran with more confidence than a year ago. He will be a multiple threat as a runner and receiver. Veteran backup Willis McGahee reported in excellent shape and played like the McGahee of old instead of an old McGahee. I wouldn't be surprised to see McGahee as the starter before the season ends. Fullback Le'Ron McClain parked his ego at the door and has been willing to play halfback, H-back, tight end and even slot receiver. We probably will see McClain as the featured runner in short-yardage situations.

WIDE RECEIVER:: The Ravens didn't find the vertical threat in training camp even though Demetrius Williams, as usual, started hot in early practices. But Williams wasn't the only inconsistent receiver. Justin Harper and Marcus Smith joined the list. Kelley Washington started off slowly but is starting to make favorable impressions. The most reliable receiver is veteran Derrick Mason, who, along with first-year receiver Jayson Foster, might be the best route runners on the team. Overall, this is a soft group that has to get tougher. They weren't very tough in training camp.

OFFENSIVE LINE:: The addition of center Matt Birk continues to be one of the Ravens' best moves during the offseason. Birk is a good teacher and leader for a young and talented group. The left side is solid with tackle Jared Gaither and guard Ben Grubbs. The right side will struggle early in the season with Chris Chester at guard and rookie Michael Oher at right tackle. Oher has excellent potential but needs to improve on pass protection. Chester is an excellent fill-in for regular right guard Marshal Yanda, who can play either guard or tackle. The Ravens, though, need to find a No. 3 and No. 4 tackle. Injuries at those positions could have a significant impact. Is veteran Willie Anderson still available?

DEFENSIVE LINE:: The Ravens haven't had this much depth since the 2000 season, when they trotted out starters Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary, and had backups named Larry Webster, Lional Dalton and Keith Washington. The Ravens go six deep at tackle, which gives them the option of playing a 3-4 or a 4-3. They have two of the game's best run stoppers in Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, and Justin Bannan is no slouch, either. And Trevor Pryce can still bring it as a pass rusher.

LINEBACKERS:: The Ravens have so much talent here that it's ridiculous. They have the ultimate leader in middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs should have a strong season once he fully recovers from his constantly aggravated heel injury. The Ravens have three inside linebackers who can also play outside in Tavares Gooden, Prescott Burgess and Jameel McClain. Veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is playing at a peak level, and keep an eye on third-year outside linebacker Antwan Barnes. No one talked about him much in training camp, but he had a great camp as far as rushing the passer. Now, if he would just cut down on the stupid penalties on special teams.

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