COMMENTARY | One of the reasons for the Baltimore Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run was the stellar play of emerging young players. On defense, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and outside linebacker Paul Kruger asserted themselves as prime defensive players who can be staples of talented defenses.
On offense, tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught just 41 passes in his first two NFL season, broke out in 2012 by catching 61 passes and seven touchdowns. By the end of the season, Pitta became one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite targets.
Fortunately for the Ravens' offense, Pitta signed his restricted free agent tender and will be back for the 2013 season, but Ellerbe and Kruger moved on the Miami and Cleveland, respectively, opening the door for a new set of Ravens to assert themselves as emerging stars.
Here are three Ravens who are primed for breakout years in 2013:
After playing in just seven games in his 2011 rookie campaign, Brown put his name on the map in 2012 by playing in all 20 games, including the playoffs. The cornerback played in a sparse role prior to Lardarius Webb's season-ending ACL injury on October 14. After Webb's injury, Brown quickly gained more playing time. He earned his first career start in Week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During the playoffs, Brown played as much as any other Ravens cornerback, starting two games and proving his value as a primary corner. After earning much-needed experience last season, Brown has a prime chance to become one of the Ravens' go-to cornerbacks, possibly earning a starting job.
With the departure of Cary Williams, a starting cornerback role is open opposite Webb. Brown will compete with Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith for the job, and if he continues to build on his impressive end to the 2012 season, could be the favorite to win it.
Like Brown, Jones benefitted from an increased role in Baltimore's defense in 2012. He played in all 20 games, earning eight starts including the playoffs. He had just one career start in his first two NFL seasons.
Now entering his fourth year, Jones has found his niche in the defense and is entering the prime of his career. He emerged as one of the Ravens' most valuable young players on defense in 2012, recording 4.5 sacks in the regular season and a sack in the Super Bowl.
He is most valuable in passing situations, and with the incomparable depth of Baltimore's defensive line, Jones can benefit by mainly being used in such situations in 2013. Depending on how the competition plays out in training camp, Jones could win a full-time starting job this season. If he can continue to add to his impressive pass-rushing repertoire, he could become one of Baltimore's most consistent defenders in 2013.
Perhaps Osemele's campaign to assert himself as one of the Ravens' best offensive linemen began during the 2012 playoffs. After starting at right tackle during the regular season, Osemele made the long-awaited switch to left guard, a more natural position for him, at the beginning of the playoffs.
During the four playoff games, Osemele was near flawless, displaying immense comfortability despite switching positions on such short notice. With a full offseason to prepare himself at left guard, there is no reason why Osemele won't take a giant step forward this season.
As one of the most talented young guards in the league, Osemele has a chance to prove that he can be one of the building blocks of Baltimore's offensive line long-term. He has future All-Pro potential if he continues to develop, and 2013 could be a critical season for him to gain more comfortability at the position.
Kyle Casey is a sports writer and college student living in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and contributes to Russell Street Report, a Baltimore Ravens blog.
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