The Ravens hit the practice field last Wednesday as they began several Organized Team Activities that will span over the several weeks.
Ravens Nation, Training Camp is a little more than a month away. So here are a few key questions that we hope to get at least partial answers to over the next few weeks.
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1) How does Gary Kubiak’s offense look with Joe Flacco under center?
The biggest signing of the off-season had to be offensive guru and former Texans Head coach Gary Kubiak. He’s made his career out of putting points in the board and molding offensive units that were usually the top ten in the league. With Kubiak’s hiring it marks the first total scheme change in John Harbaugh’s tenure so there has to be a level of transition expected. How long will that transition take will only be answered by the players on the field.
The most important player in this changeover has to be Joe Flacco. The quarterback with the huge contract who threw for a career high in interceptions a year ago. Flacco will need to prove that he has a grasp of the new concepts, verbiage, and meshing with his new teammates in Kubiak’s West Coast style. Fans and media have already been complaining that Flacco was unable to lead any private throwing sessions with his new players this off-season so with all offensive players in camp the work starts now for his unit.
2) Is Ray Rice ready for a bounce-back 2014?
Last year was one I’m sure Rice would like to put behind him, as he registered a career low in offensive production battling injuries and in the off-season was involved in a domestic altercation that made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Rice, who appears slimmed down and is close to his rookie weight of 208, has much to prove and it starts this week.
Was his lack of burst last season a result of added bulk and various injuries? Can he fully adjust running behind a zone blocking scheme? Will he be suspended this season and if so, for how many games? These are all questions that the seventh-year running back must face in a pivotal year in his football career.
3) Will the changes in the Offensive Line improve a dreadful 2013 performance?
The crumbling of the offensive line due to injury (Osemele), retirement (Birk), and under-performance (Gradkowski, Shipley) was a key factor in the Ravens offensive struggles. As a result the team went to work as they traded for veteran Jeremy Zuttah and resigned Eugene Monroe at Left Tackle. Kelechi Osemele has been feverishly working to get back into form and Marshall Yanda should be ready as always. The only question remains at Right Tackle where it appears to be second-year man Rick Wagner’s job to lose. All eyes will be on Wagner to see if he can impress Ravens brass enough to stave off a vet signing at his position.
4) Can the Ravens Rookies provide a play-making lift on defense?
Baltimore was firmly in the middle of the pack in the AFC as they generated 24 turnovers last season. Many of those were in the early part of the year as Dean Pees played a more “Bend, Don’t Break” Style perhaps out of necessity.
This season expect the Ravens to infuse the defense with some fresh legs as first-rounder C.J. Mosley, Defensive Tackle Timmy Jernigan and Free Safety Terrence Brooks are all expected to challenge for snaps with the first team. Add them in with second year players, Matt Elam, Brandon Williams and Arthur Brown and the defense should be much quicker to the ball and hopefully wreak more havoc on the opposition.
5) What can we expect out of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels?
The Ravens made it a point to bolster the passing attack with two vets who have proven themselves to be fine professionals. However the question remains as to how much we can reasonably expect in terms of production from each player.
The thirty-five year old Smith had his last 1,000 season in 2012 and was released by the Panthers this past March. Early indications are that he’s tireless worker with plenty of confidence as he told reporters that was ready “to serve some humble pie” to his critics. Daniels is a former Pro Bowler who was out 11 games with a broken leg last season. O.D. is known for doing most of his damage over the middle of the field and should be seen as a substantial upgrade over Ed Dickson.