Eisenberg: Fuzziness That Still Needs Clearing Up

There are plenty of questions the Ravens will seek to answer once training camp comes around.

Posted by John Eisenberg on Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 at 10:41 am | Categories: 2012 Offseason, John Eisenberg

When the Ravens concluded their three-day minicamp last week, they effectively concluded their initial preparations for the 2012 season. Free agency, the draft, minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) have come and gone, leaving the raw outline of a team that will try to secure a fifth straight trip to the playoffs.

The next item on the agenda is training camp, beginning in a little more than a month, where the coaches will seek to clear up whatever fuzziness resides within the lines of that raw outline.

Where is that fuzziness? In the wake of everything that has transpired since the end of last season – the personnel gains and losses, the injuries, the surprising retirements, the minicamp MIAs – what questions will the Ravens seek to answer when training camp opens in late July?

Actually, before we get to those, let’s run down a quick list of things they won’t fret about:

+ Whether Ed Reed shows up. He sent a message to the front office by skipping minicamp, but he is under contract for 2012, set to earn more than $7 million, wants a new deal, and most of all, loves to play football. He will be there, ready to go.

+ Whether Ray Rice is rusty. At some point, regardless if he gets a long-term deal, he will sign for 2012 and re-join his teammates.  There’s no telling when it might happen, but the Ravens have no doubt he will arrive in peak condition, in time to be ready for the season opener, as if he never missed a practice. He respects his teammates too much to let them down.

+ Whether Joe Flacco’s contract status affects him on the field. If he doesn’t sign that long-term deal he wants, Joe will find himself in new territory, having to push aside off-field contract concerns. But if you hadn’t noticed, he’s really good at slamming the door on any kind of chatter.

OK, now that we’ve cleared up what the Ravens aren’t worried about, let’s get to the questions they hope to answer in camp:

+ Is their offensive line good enough? It appears they plan to start the same group as last year, only with veteran newcomer Bobbie Williams replacing Ben Grubbs. (They aren’t paying Williams almost $3 million over two years to sit.) The right side shapes up solidly with Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher, but by October, Matt Birk and Williams will be 36, Bryant McKinnie 33. Several potential red flags there. Untested younger guys such as Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid and Gino Gradkowski represent Plan B.

+ Is Jacoby Jones really the No. 3 receiver? He flashed stunning speed in minicamp practices open to the media and looked spectacular returning kicks and punts with a slashing style. That’s going to be fun to watch. But while he caught his share of passes from Flacco, he also dropped a few, raising the concerns about his consistency that simmered in Houston. The Ravens need someone other than Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith to catch the ball downfield. Is it Jones or one of their many other candidates?

+ Does Pernell McPhee or Arthur Jones start next to Haloti Ngata? Ngata said last week that he expected to see a good, lively competition. But regardless, both are going to see a lot of playing time.

+ Who kicks? Justin Tucker and Billy Cundiff have shared the duties at practices since Tucker signed last month. If they didn’t have numbers on their uniforms, it would be hard to distinguish them. Tucker has exhibited a big and accurate leg at the practices open to the media. Both will kick through camp and the exhibition season. The Ravens like Cundiff and have money invested in him. Do they have the guts to go with a rookie on a team trying to make the Super Bowl?

+ Who backs up Rice? With Rice out, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen and Damien Berry all had a chance to run with the “ones.” It’s hard to say one stood out. The Ravens will need to decide whether they can replicate Ricky Williams’ 400-plus yards with one of them or need to go sign a veteran.

+ Can they replace Terrell Suggs? In a sense, this really belongs on the list of things they aren’t worried about, because what’s done is done. But the issue will loom over every practice. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees will have to get out his magic markers and alter some blueprints.

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