The first full-team Training Camp practice for the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens is July 25th. As the countdown begins towards the 2013 season, Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) has reached out to Mike Tanier, from Sports on Earth for some of his thoughts on the Ravens.
Baltimore Sports and Life thanks Mr. Tanier for again taking some time to answer a few questions.
(You can discuss this Q&A on the BSL Message Board here.)
BSL: With McKinnie resigned, the offensive line from left-to-right is McKinnie, Osemele, Shipley or Gradkowski, Yanda, and Oher. Thoughts on this group as a whole? Oher is entering the final year of his contract. Do you see the Ravens being able to extend Oher for going RT rates, or do you expect another team will offer him LT money?
Tanier: Osmele is a player I thought very highly of coming out of college. I think he was overextended as a tackle but could be as good as Yanda as he develops as a guard. I see Gradkowski winning the center position, as Shipley is the kind of guy a team grabs as an insurance policy. McKinnie is a wild card and the kind of player who scares me if he gets too comfortable. It’s encouraging to hear that he has been in shape this offseason.
NFL general managers and coaches do not really think in terms of left tackle or right tackle anymore. That is more of an agent thing. There are tackles you have to protect and tackles you don’t. Oher is a tackle you have to protect. If he goes to market, the Ravens will find themselves at the mercy of every team with cap money to spend that needs a starting tackle. That said, they may see Osmele in Oher’s place in a year or so.
BSL: Pearce had a strong rookie year, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on his 108 attempts. He was a non-factor as a receiver out of the backfield though. After signing his 5 year $35M contract ($24M guaranteed) prior to last year, Rice saw his yards per game drop from 129.3 in ’11, to 101.3 in ’12. Not coincidentally, his yard per game dropped matched a decrease in overall touches (from 291 carries to 257, from 76 catches to 61) per game. Will we see a more equal distribution of carries between the backs this year?
Tanier: I think you will see a distribution closer to what we saw after the coordinator change last December and thru the playoffs. Rice got about twice as many carries as Peace in the playoffs (84 to 39). The split was 24 to 14 in the Giants game after Caldwell took over. The Bengals game is junk data, of course, and it throws off Rice’s usage totals a little. Rice is still getting plenty of touches, with Pearce getting more in part because the Ravens were running a little more frequently. There is something to be said about letting the featured back work smarter than harder.
BSL: Two years ago Dickson had 54 catches, but too many drops. Last year he was a forgotten man until the post-season. Meanwhile, Pitta saw his production increase, as he took another step towards becoming a star. Can further utilization of the these TE’s help replace the departure of Boldin?
Tanier: Dickson was hurt for much of last season. Both early in the season and late, he saw plenty of action. It looks like the Ravens are comfortable using a two-tight end offense moving forward, which is one reason they did not leap to replace Boldin. I see Pitta taking over a lot of the possession role that used to belong to Boldin.
BSL: Unless an external WR is added to the mix, it appears the Ravens 2nd WR will be Jacoby Jones. If the Ravens are relying on Jones more as a receiver, will they have to rely on him less in the return game?
Tanier: They certainly have options. Davis Reed was re-signed, Deonte Thomson and Tanden Doss are possibilities. They could use Jones as a special occasion returner, the way the Eagles use DeSean Jackson. Jones has been a return man first and a receiver second for most of his career, however, so that might not play to his strengths. There is talk about giving all of the Thompson-Doss-Streeter youngsters a chance to compete for Jones’ #2 receiver job. One of them could end up as a “package” receiver who is on the field at times when Jones is not.
BSL: The departures of Lewis, and Reed, have led to an obvious period of transition for the defense. Overall, I see a group which should be stronger overall. Marcus Spears and Chris Canty can help the Defensive Line, as can Rookie Brandon Williams. Dumervil and Suggs should be a nice pass rushing combo. Daryl Smith provides a veteran at MLB, while Arthur Brown provides fresh legs. Michael Huff spent time at CB during ’12, and should excel moving back to S full-time. Like Brown, Matt Elam gives the defense a shot of youth and increased athleticism. The primary questions to me being, 1) How does Webb look? 2) Does Jimmy Smith emerge? 3) With help on the line, can Ngata dominate play weekly? 4) After a full year of recovery, is Suggs back to his 2011 Defensive POY level? How do you see the defense? Do you think the defense will be improved overall? What is your primary concern?
Tanier: It is hard to take away as much as the Ravens lost and project improvement. The losses were incredibly broad and deep. Inside linebacker and the whole secondary are major points of concern. Elam and Arthur Brown are promising rookies, but rookies. Huff and Smith were good starters on awful teams for many years, and they are stepping into some vast shoes (assuming Smith gets a crack at a starting job, which I am not sure about). Webb has had two ACL surgeries, Graham had a Holy Cow year that I am not sure he can repeat, and Smith is a total mystery. I think the good news is that there is no reason to predict catastrophe. It sure felt like a catastrophe in the first few days of free agency, but Elvis and the all the journeymen provide some spackle around Ngata and Suggs.
BSL: Cincinnati has an abundance of young talent. Pittsburgh is an organization always to be respected. Cleveland is again under new leadership. Brief thoughts on the rest of the AFC North?
Tanier: I like the Bengals to be the Ravens biggest challengers. They are trending upward, with the Steelers and Ravens in more of a transition mode. The Football Outsiders projections have them so well bunched that the change in a variable or two changes the projected division champion. The Steelers got too old in 2012, and it will take more than one productive draft to get them back where they were a few seasons ago. The Browns have a core of pretty good talent but have to prove they can even take that first step. All the news out of Cleveland is about the owner getting investigated, the GMs playing “who’s the boss,” the star receiver getting suspended, and the “prospect” quarterback turning 30.
BSL: In each year under Coach Harbaugh, with Flacco at QB, and Rice at RB; the Ravens have gone to the Playoffs. They have won at-least one Playoff game in each of those 5 seasons, and have 6 road Playoff wins to their credit. Will this trio extend their Playoff run to a 6th consecutive season? The Ravens are used to facing a difficult schedule, and that should again be the case this year with the NFC North, Denver, Houston, and New England among those on docket. Would you take the Over or Under on 10 wins?
Tanier: I would take the under. The schedule is tough, the division is tough, and the questions are numerous. The Super Bowl casts a halo over things, but this is a team that lost the greatest linebacker in history, a Hall of Fame safety, a near Hall of Fame center, a perennial Pro Bowl receiver, one of the most exciting young pass rushers in the league, an enforcer at strong safety, and a host of important defensive role players. We can talk about the Harbaugh-Flacco-Rice era, but let’s be real: this was considered the Lewis-Reed-Harbaugh era until about mid-January. The Ravens’ greatest strength is their organizational infrastructure, from ownership to Newsome, through Harbaugh and his staff and scouts. That is who Ravens fans are relying on moving forward: an organization that can identify and develop centers from Delaware and 2nd-through-5th receivers from all over the place and defensive starters in the second and third round. The Ravens organization is good enough to do those things, but it is over optimistic to expect them to do them all at once, in the space of a few months.