Since the Cleveland Cavaliers brought a championship to their city for the first time since 1964, we have been in Purgatory, the terrible time of year where the only sport on television is baseball. However, just around the corner is our first taste of seeing what our respective teams will look like, and we get a clearer view of whether players will suit up in August or not. When that happens, there are always players that you will want to keep an eye on in training camp. Here are five Baltimore Ravens players to watch during training camp.
First and foremost, all eyes will be on the man under center, Joe Flacco. He’s coming back from an ACL injury suffered in Week 10 of the 2015 NFL season, and most, if not all, athletes are never the same after an injury like that. Joe wasn’t playing his best football before his injury last year, and the injury just adds to concerns. Coming off of a 5-11 season, with a 3-7 personal record, where he threw almost as many INTs as he did TDs, training camp will show if Joe is playing like 2013 Flacco, or if he will start playing more like 2011 postseason Joe (the guy that the Ravens paid a bunch of money to, and then he disappeared).
Look for him to build chemistry with his new weapons (Benjamin Watson, Chris Moore, Mike Wallace, and Breshad Perriman), while continuing to build on his relationship with existing receivers, as well as Dennis Pitta. As much as I hate to say it, a large portion of how well the Ravens do this season rests on Joe Cool’s shoulders.
Dennis Pitta is another man returning from a season-ending injury, except his was suffered in 2014, and he missed the entire 2015 campaign with the second hip injury in as many years. When healthy, Pitta is one of Flacco’s favorite targets, as they have a chemistry unmatched by any other receiving threat in Joe’s tenure. He is big, has decent speed, and great hands, which is something that the Ravens need desperately, given the propensity for drops that some receivers have shown in recent years. However, hip injuries are a tricky thing (sensing a trend here?), and eyes will be on him in training camp to see if he is the Pitta of old.
The caveat of that is that he doesn’t need to be. The tight end position is probably the one with the most talent on the roster, as Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams are returning, the Ravens have added Benjamin Watson (coming off of a career year with the Saints), and Nick Boyle has shown talent (though he is suspended for 10 games). But if Pitta can return to a degree of his former self, the Flacco-to-Pitta connection will return, and touchdowns will be more frequent.
He’s in. He’s out. He’s coming back. He’s not. He’s injured again. No he’s not.
This has been the storyline for Breshad Perriman since training camp for the 2015 season began when he suffered a knee injury. All throughout the season, it was unclear as to whether he would play in his rookie year or not. As the season wore on, it became clear that he would not, especially when the Ravens were in such a hole that they could not dig themselves out of it. At that point, it made more sense to keep him on IR, so as not to further injure him during a losing season.
The 2016 off-season rolled around, and OTAs began. Once again, rumors surfaced that Perriman was injured. This time, it turned out that he was not, and just needed a stem-cell injection, but was deemed ready for the 2016 season. The great purple hope is that he has retained his speed through the injuries, and that he has been coached enough to combat the drops that he was experiencing in his college career. Keep an eye on him, because he very well could be the answer to the wideout problem that the Ravens have had since the departure of Derrick Mason. (I personally think that Chris Moore is going to be the answer, but hey.. devil’s advocate.)
If he is, he will stretch defenses, burn defenders, and create speed/size matchup issues. But given the uncertainty he has had thus far, I don’t expect that to change.
The secondary was a huge problem for Baltimore last season, and it was noticed. Lardarius Webb was moved from cornerback to safety, where he appears to be much more comfortable. Jimmy Smith appears to be healthy again, Shareece Wright showed that he could be a top CB through the final 10 games last year, and the Ravens also drafted DBs. But perhaps the most important move that was made was the free agency signing of Eric Weddle. He also happens to be the only top 20 free agent prospect signed by a AFC North team
Weddle provides veteran leadership in the backfield, something that has been severely lacking since the departure of Ed Reed. During OTAs, he meshed well with the players already in place, barking orders, leading them with hand signals, roaming all over the field, and creating overall confusion in the offense, as he switched up plays. Look for Weddle to single-handedly motivate the secondary, creating a sort of no-fly zone. Weddle lost a step in San Diego last year, but with the state of the Chargers, both on the field and in the front office, a change of scenery may just boost him back to his top 10 safety status, something that would be a huge boost for the Ravens’ secondary, which was ranked 26th through the first half of the year last season.
The offensive line of 2015 looked eerily similar to the 2013 offensive line (2013 was the year that Flacco got sacked a whopping 48 times), and that was with the presence of Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. KO has since departed in free agency, going to the Oakland Raiders for a huge contract. Marshal Yanda is still the best guard in the league, but he’s one guy. He can’t do it all.
Enter Ronnie Stanley, the tackle out of Notre Dame that the Ravens drafted #6 overall in the 2016 NFL draft. With the departure of Eugene Monroe (health and commitment concerns), Stanley is a shoo-in for the starter position, and looks to make a Day 1 impact as the Blindside for Flacco, a position of great importance, especially when you take into consideration Flacco’s injury. In minicamp, Stanley impressed, showing quickness and strength. Keep an eye on him in training camp as well, as he looks to progress with his transition from college to the NFL. If Ronnie turns out to be a bust instead of a certified 1st round star, the Ravens, and Flacco especially, could be in for a long season, with many quarterback hurries and sacks.
While these are the first 5 players that come to mind, keep your eyes open in the Baltimore camp. There are many new moving parts, from rookies to free agents to players coming back from an injury. While training camp is not necessarily a good judge of how the season will turn out, expect the Ravens to make a huge step forward from their 5-11 season in the 2015 campaign. Correa, Moore, Dixon, Reynolds, Forsett, Aiken – these are all players at skill positions that could make an early impact.