Ravens are a player or two away from being a strong contender

(Kevin Richardson, Baltimore…)
August 29, 2014|Mike Preston

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has to be a little nervous these days.

The Ravens are a few players away from being a good football team, and Newsome has several days remaining before the team begins preparation for the season opener here against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7.

So, I suspect Newsome's fingers are busy calling around the league in an effort to find a cornerback or a guard or tackle in exchange for his team's surplus of receivers and linebackers.

There is a fine line between being a serious contender and being average in the NFL, and the Ravens want to take it to the next level. They want to improve their offensive line, but the real sense of urgency is in the secondary.

Forget coach John Harbaugh's happy talk about how content he is with the present state of the Ravens. If starting cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith were healthy, No. 4 cornerback Chykie Brown might be unemployed.

For the moment, he is the team's top cornerback, which is why Newsome is pounding the phone and the pavement. The Ravens can't win with Brown or Dominique Franks as starters.

The Ravens would like to believe Smith (bruised chest), Webb (back) and No. 3 cornerback Asa Jackson (ankle) will be ready for the Bengals, but the status of all three remains in doubt. Even if Smith and Webb play, would they be at 100 percent? Webb hasn't practiced in more than a month, and Smith has been sidelined for more than a week.

Worse, the NFL is a pass-happy league and the Bengals are coming to town with receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate.

The only consolation is that Andy Dalton is Cincinnati's quarterback.

But you understand why Newsome is watching the waiver wire and searching rosters for corners. A good cornerback might also help the Ravens' pass rush, especially with two aging outside linebackers in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

While trying to find a corner, Newsome might as well search for a safety, because the Ravens don't have one now who plays a lick of pass coverage.

Ideally, the Ravens would want to trade without giving up draft picks because they have some bait available in receivers Deonte Thompson and Kamar Aiken or linebackers Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes.

The Ravens are also in the market for a guard or tackle, possibly one to start at guard. Starters Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have been solid in training camp, but if either got hurt, or both as occurred a year ago, the team has virtually no depth.

Right now, the top replacement would be A.Q. Shipley, who underperformed as a starter last season.

There are still concerns about offensive tackle. Starters Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner were solid in the preseason, but Monroe was expected to be better. Jah Reid is the primary backup on the right side, but he was out with a concussion last week. Even when healthy, Reid's play is questionable.

The Ravens seem set everywhere else. The running back situation has been resolved, and quarterback Joe Flacco has the team's best set of receivers since 1996, when the Ravens had Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander and Jermaine Lewis.

The current group has more depth with Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown as the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind starters Steve Smith and Torrey Smith.

Scheme-wise, the offense seems to be ahead of the defense, and maybe that's because of the injuries. At the same time, there are questions about the age and longevity of veterans such as defensive end Chris Canty, tackle Haloti Ngata, Suggs and inside linebacker Daryl Smith.

The Ravens have an infusion of young talent in defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan and linebackers Arthur Brown and C.J. Mosley, but will that be enough?

Those answers, though, will come later during the season. For the moment, the Ravens have to get through the next couple of days.

They need to find another player or two who can make the difference between going to the playoffs and missing out for the second straight year.



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