With the Baltimore Ravens finishing up OTAs and having mandatory camp from June 16-18, the team looks to work on ways to improve upon last season’s success. Here are five questions that will shape the Ravens as they prepare for training camp in late July:
Will Dennis Pitta, Joe Flacco’s favorite target, remain healthy and able to practice during the summer?
The Ravens teased fans with practice highlights of tight end Dennis Pitta running some light drills. The fifth-year tight end has only played in seven games over the past two years after suffering a career-threatening hip injury in summer practice in 2013, then tweaking it in a game last year. Although Pitta looked smooth in the limited video of his practice, every fan remembers how easily he went down last year, falling to the ground untouched. Regardless, Pitta played an integral role in the Ravens’ Super Bowl season in 2013, notching 669 yards and seven touchdowns. The Ravens drafted two tight ends, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle, providing extra insurance in case Pitta isn’t 100 percent. Crockett Gillmore will also be in the mix of tight ends during the season, as Owen Daniels left for Denver in free agency.
Who will separate themselves from the rest in the battle for the third wide receiver position?
Entering the NFL Draft, the Ravens had a glaring need at wide receiver after Torrey Smith headed to the west coast to play for the 49ers. The Ravens return several receivers from last year, but only one starter, the ever-reliant Steve Smith, who turned 36 last month. Then, they drafted Breshad Perriman out of UCF, who seems to fit in almost perfectly into Torrey Smith’s old role as a vertical threat. That leaves the pivotal third wide receiver in limbo with a battle between Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro, if he can stay healthy. Brown played extremely well in 2013, finishing with 524 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. However, his numbers dipped significantly last year, as Aiken proved more effective, catching three touchdowns to go along with 267 yards. This summer will be instrumental in determining which player is best for the position. The Ravens may also think about adding a veteran free agent if needed.
How will the offense adjust to Marc Trestman, the team’s fourth offensive coordinator in four years?
Under Gary Kubiak, the Ravens recorded arguably their best offensive season in team history. His implementation of the zone-blocking scheme reinvigorated a flailing rush game, and more deep balls helped create big gains and open up holes underneath. However, Kubiak left to become Denver's head coach, with Marc Trestman taking over Baltimore's offense after two years as the Bears’ head coach. Trestman and Kubiak seem to have very similar styles, relying heavily on zone blocking for the running game. However, Trestman will look to run more play-action passes that should prove successful with Flacco’s cannon arm. In the early going, Trestman has been pushing everything upon the offense to see what they can handle. The move seems to be paying off though, as the team has looked impressive in all types of game situations.
How will the Ravens replace five time Pro-Bowler Haloti Ngata on the defensive line?
Haloti Ngata seemed destined to be one of those players who spends his entire career with one team, but the Ravens simply could not afford him. So now they are without the highly respected veteran after trading him to the Lions. However, there does not seem to be any worry for the Ravens because of Timmy Jernigan, the second-year defensive tackle out of Florida State. In addition to Jernigan, Brandon Williams, who enters his third year, will split time at nose guard. Ngata finished the season as one of the top defensive tackles, but both Jernigan and Williams finished very close behind him in less time played. Both players are viable options to start, which could be determined during the offseason. Nevertheless, both figure to receive significant snaps over the course of the season, trying to make it seem as if nothing changed along the line.
The Ravens upgraded their secondary over the offseason, but where does Matt Elam fall in the mix?
Looking to improve the injury-prone secondary, the Ravens have added veteran cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Cassius Vaughn, in addition to free safety Kendrick Lewis. Terrence Brooks, who had a successful rookie season at strong safety, will be out for the beginning of the year, after tearing knee ligaments last season. This injury leaves a hole at strong safety, where Will Hill and Matt Elam will battle for the spot. Hill seems to have the edge after a strong 2014, while Elam, the team's first-round draft pick in 2013, continued to struggle. The Ravens have invested a lot in Elam, although they haven’t gotten the production they hoped for, which he has acknowledged repeatedly. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh likes what he has seen from Hill, but Elam will be doing everything he can to take over the position many had hoped he would succeed in.