The Baltimore Ravens will hold a mandatory three day mini-camp this week where the staff will have time to work with the entire roster before training camp convenes in a month.
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Here are some of the key questions I hope can at least get partially answered:
1) Which Wide Receiver will prove that he’s ready for a larger role in the offense?
The wide receiver competition will be probably be the most talked about storyline among fans this summer. There is quantity but unknown quality in a group that includes; Tandon Doss, Laquan Williams, David Reed, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter and rookie Aaron Mellette. Will one of these players be able to prove that the Ravens don’t need to add anyone else to the roster? And how will the Ravens utilize dance sensation Jacoby Jones? Will he continue in his role as return man supreme or will his offensive reps increase? This week will give the staff some more information in their quest for clarity.
2) How will the Ravens chemistry differ with so many fresh faces on this season’s roster?
With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed departing in the same season it is truly the end of an era in Charm city. Couple that with the fact that with the Ravens releasing Vonta Leach the team will begin the season without nine starters from last season’s title team. Before this offseason, no NFL team had lost more than five Super Bowl starters from its roster before the following season.
While I would agree that on paper the front office has done a nice job filling the slots of those departed players but the game isn’t played in a vacuum. It will be interesting to me to see what players step up and assume leadership roles in the locker room and how the incoming free agents meld with those leftovers from the championship team.
3) Can the Offensive Line continue to produce without Matt Birk?
When Bryant McKinnie re-signed with the team everything seemed to settle into place with only the Center position the biggest question mark for the upcoming season. The battle between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley should be interesting but I think it could be Gradkowski’s job to lose unless he is totally outclassed by the former Colt. That thinking would be consistent with how the Ravens love to promote from within, but we won’t know until they start taking reps.
There’s no question that one of the main reasons that offense was so productive was due to keeping Flacco upright and scanning downfield looking to unleash a barrage of deep passes. I still have some concerns about McKinnie and wonder if he and the line will be able to replicate their playoff success into this regular season. It’s probably not likely but if they maintain solid play it will go along way for Baltimore repeating as AFC North champions.
4) Can rookies like Arthur Brown and Matt Elam prove that they belong?
It’s fairly rare in recent history for the Ravens to rely on draft picks to step in immediately and contribute. This of course is the dawn of a new era and with so much turnover in the roster both players are at least penciled in to start right away.
Initial reports from Mini-camp were encouraging but it still remains to be seen how they will fit in with a group that will still be learning each others names early on.
5) Will the Ravens re-tooled defense be better in 2013?
For a franchise that he been known so much for defense throughout it’s history it was strange watching the unit get pushed around so much in 2012. They also failed to finish off plays as they racked up 87 broken tackles as a group, which in case you didn’t know is pretty awful.
The group did show improvement after the Bye week and finished middle of the pack in most categories. But with an emphasis on stopping the run and getting to the quarterback with the new additions brought to the team such as Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil they appear to have addressed enough needs. Will we see it on the field? It won’t truly get answered until games are played for real.