The Baltimore Ravens have earned the reputation of being one of the NFL's best teams at drafting and developing talent. When Baltimore opens the 2012 NFL season on September 10th against the Cincinnati Bengals they will do so with several rookies playing prominent roles.
The Ravens selected offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele in the second round of April's draft out of Iowa State. The 6'5" 330 lb. rookie was thrust into a prominent training camp role when incumbent left tackle Bryant McKinnie reported late to camp. Osemele took snaps at right tackle during McKinnie's absence with Michael Oher shifting to left tackle. McKinnie has since reported and is expected to be the Ravens' left tackle heading into the season but his absence opened the door for Osemele. The rookie will likely be the first tackle off the bench and could wind up starting at left guard.
Baltimore selected former Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the 35th pick in April's draft. Upshaw was thrown into the battle to replace outside linebacker Jarret Johnson who signed with the Colts as a free agent. When reigning defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs suffered a serious Achilles injury just days after the draft Upshaw's selection took on additional importance. Upshaw has played mostly with the second team during the preseason but he figures to get plenty of regular season snaps as Baltimore looks to replace Suggs' ability to pressure the quarterback.
The Ravens chose running back Bernard Pierce out of Temple in the third round of the draft. Pierce figured to be insurance in the event that the Ravens and Ray Rice were unable to agree to a long term deal. Rice signed a five year contract extension at the start of training camp which means that Pierce will serve as the primary backup to the All Pro. In 2011 Ricky Williams rushed the ball 108 times as Baltimore's number two tailback. Pierce should expect a similar workload in his rookie campaign.
The Ravens' 2011 season ended abruptly as Billy Cundiff missed the would be game tying field goal in the final seconds of the AFC Championship game. Baltimore invited undrafted kicker Justin Tucker from the University of Texas to training to camp to push Cundiff for the placekicking job. The rookie consistently outperformed the veteran. Baltimore cut Cundiff last weekend and he has since signed with the Redskins. The Ravens will go with the strong legged and unproven Tucker as they attempt to eradicate the disappointment of last season's finale.
*Information gathered from http://www.nfl.com