Ravens expect rough and tumble training camp
After sliding to a woeful 8-8 record in 2013 as a shameful follow-up to winning the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens will unveil a retooled team and attitude when the full squad begins training camp practice July 24 at their facility in Owings Mills, Md.
Coach John Harbaugh already promised to instill more toughness into the team, so these workouts should be as tough as allowed by the NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Among the many things to track during training camp are these:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
Free safety: The Ravens are holding a competition between rookie Terrence Brooks, their third-round draft pick from Florida State, and veterans Darian Stewart and Jeromy Miles. Brooks is regarded as the front-runner to win the job.
The Ravens also have the option of keeping Matt Elam, last year's starter, at free safety instead of moving him to his natural strong safety position.
--OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Right offensive tackle is an unproven spot where 2013 fifth-round draft pick Rick Wagner is currently the starter. He is competing with Ryan Jensen for the starting job.
Wagner struggled in limited action last season and allowed three sacks to Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shaun Phillips in his first NFL game. If Wagner proves he's capable of holding down the position, the Ravens won't have to seek a veteran blocker to upgrade the position or shift Kelechi Osemele from left guard.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Ray Rice, RB: He is coming off a career-worst season and a rocky offseason where he was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault and allegedly knocked his fiancee (now wife) unconscious.
Rice is facing a potential NFL suspension under the personal-conduct policy. And he is trying to regain his Pro-Bowl form after rushing for just 660 yards last season when he averaged 3.1 yards per carry and battled hip and quadriceps injuries.
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Ayodeji "Deji" Olatoye, CB, North Carolina A&T, undrafted rookie: He has an excellent combination of size and speed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds. Olatoye made several good plays during minicamps and organized team activities.
Because of the Ravens' need for quality depth at corner, Olatoye has a solid shot at overcoming the odds and possibly making the 53-man roster if he continues to progress. NFLDraftScout.com projected Olatoye as a priority free agent, 88th cornerback, 901 overall.
--The Ravens still don't have a timetable on when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will issue a ruling on any potential discipline for running back Ray Rice. Rice was arrested in a domestic violence incident involving his then-fiancee, whom he later married.
When asked if he was aware of when the league would determine Rice's status, Ravens coach John Harbaugh replied: "Not to my knowledge. I'm not aware of any timetable on that at all."
Rice is expected to be punished by Goodell under the league's personal conduct policy after being arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault in February at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. Rice was arrested after a physical altercation with then-fiancee Janay Palmer, whom he later married after being indicted.
Rice is facing a possible lengthy suspension as well as fines.
Rice has been accepted into a pretrial diversionary program, in which he will avoid a trial and face no jail time as long as he completes the requirements of the court.
Palmer was initially charged with simple assault along with Rice. Prosecutors reviewed the case and later dismissed her charges administratively and upgraded Rice's charge to a more serious third-degree aggravated assault case.
Rice had not previously been in trouble with the law.
--Quarterback Joe Flacco is encouraged about his progress absorbing offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense.
"I think we've had a great couple of weeks," Flacco said. "I think we've gotten better and better each week. I think the guys have done a great job of studying, coming out to the field prepared and allowing us to get a lot of work done. I think we looked pretty good."
The Ravens finished 29th in total offense last season.
"I feel great," Flacco said. "Throughout the course of the last couple of weeks, I've been able to get really, really comfortable and kind of just get back there, go through my reads and have a lot of fun. I think we look good."
Flacco looks comfortable running the offense.
"At this stage, Joe is playing very well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I would love to see him against another defense today. If we were allowed to scrimmage somebody, we'd know more, but he looks good."
--The Ravens have signed veteran cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks after successful minicamp tryouts, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The Ravens also have agreed to terms with linebackers Austin Spitler and Nick DiMarco.
A former first-round draft pick out of Texas, Ross, 31, won a pair of Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants. He played for Ravens secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo as a rookie for the Giants when they won Super Bowl XLII in 2008.
Ross has 11 career interceptions and 41 passes defensed. Franks is a 2010 Atlanta Falcons fifth-round draft pick from Oklahoma. Spitler is a former Miami Dolphins seventh-round draft pick. DiMarco went undrafted out of William Penn and was briefly with the New York Jets before being released.
His method of diplomacy? Breakfast.
Smith tweeted out a "peace offering" photo of a bag from Dunkin' Donuts intended for Webb on Thursday morning.
"Peace offering from 89 @LWebb21," Smith wrote on Twitter. "everyone loves dunkin. ... #glazeUpson the world runs on dunkin."
During their practice altercation, Webb knocked Smith down. Smith then got up and shoved Webb before they exchanged words.
Once the fight appeared to be over, with teammates interceding to break it up, Smith took another shot at Webb. That was followed by Smith cursing at Webb and issuing a threat.
So much so that Jones likes to joke that Kubiak is his biological father.
"I need to get that DNA test," Jones said. "I'm going to steal his coffee and swab the cup and figure it out. I have to make sure. I hope my mother doesn't see this. She'll kill me."
When Kubiak was hired in late January, he complimented Jones for his progress "not only as a player, but as a man."
Jones has excellent recall of Kubiak's version of the West Coast offense from their five years together with the Texans. The playbook hasn't changed much.
"There might be one or two tweaks," Jones said. "Every time when I see it, I'm like, 'I already know this.'"
Jones then pointed to his head and said: "Still in there, computerized. Five years of it."
Since joining the Ravens, Jones has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a score during regular-season games. He caught 36 passes for 444 yards and two touchdowns last season and 30 receptions for 406 yards and one touchdown during the 2012 season.
Having built a reputation as one of the most dangerous returners in the NFL, Jones would like to upgrade his play at wide receiver and contribute more this season.
Whether Jones' role will increase as he works in tandem with five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith, returning starter Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown remains to be seen.
"Trying to be one of the best receivers in the league," Jones said. "Try and play my role when they call my number. We fell short last year not going to the playoffs, and you beat yourself up in the offseason like, 'What did I do wrong? What did I do right?' You look for those types of small things and then build off them."
--Fisticuffs broke out at practice Wednesday.
One fight was between wide receiver Steve Smith and cornerback Lardarius Webb. Smith took exception to Webb knocking him down after a catch.
Meanwhile, rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan got into a scrap with rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore that ended quickly.
--Former Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers visited the San Diego Chargers on Wednesday. The Chargers, Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings have displayed the most interest in Flowers and the Ravens and New England Patriots "remain in the mix," The Baltimore Sun reported.
The Ravens have several free-agent cornerbacks in town this week on a tryout basis, including Aaron Ross, Drayton Florence, Marquice Cole, Dominique Franks, Kevin Thomas and Bobby Felder.
--The Ravens are also trying out veteran defensive tackle Daniel Muir during minicamp. A 30-year-old Lanham native, Muir played high school football at Parkdale in Riverdale where he was an all-state selection as a senior, when he recorded 96 tackles and 13.5 sacks.
The 6-foot-2, 312-pounder has played for the Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers. Muir had 17 tackles and one sack last season for the Raiders in 10 games, including one start. Muir has 128 tackles and 1.5 sacks in parts of seven NFL seasons.
--When outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil reflected on his first season with the Ravens, he wasn't inclined to pat himself on the back.
Dumervil acknowledged this week that he was generally dissatisfied with how he played along with the performance of the entire defense as the Ravens failed to make the playoffs.
Signed last year by the Ravens to a five-year contract worth up to $35 million, Dumervil generated 9.5 sacks. However, the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher recorded just one sack during the final seven games as he dealt with an ankle injury.
"Not good enough," Dumervil said following the Ravens' minicamp practice. "We definitely have room for improvement. We can get better in all phases. We did a lot of good things last year, but we just didn't do it good enough to win games and get to the playoffs and have a chance to get to the championship."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Joe Flacco, Backups -- Tyrod Taylor, Keith Wenning.
Flacco didn't live up to the expectations that accompany a blockbuster $120.6 million contract as he threw a franchise-record 22 interceptions. It was an uncharacteristic season for the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. Some of the biggest priorities for the Ravens are providing Flacco with more time to throw and getting him into a comfort zone. He was sacked 48 times last season and clearly didn't look comfortable. He has looked sharp during offseason minicamps and organized team activities. "It's a new year, a new beginning and a chance to do new things," Flacco said. "I think we've got a good team and an offense that can put up some numbers." Taylor remains the backup heading into the final year of his rookie contract. He provides an athletic change of pace as insurance behind Flacco. Wenning didn't look ready to be the backup during offseason practice sessions.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Dennis Pitta. Backups - Owen Daniels, Crockett Gillmore, Phillip Supernaw, Nathan Overbay.
Pitta has regained his old explosiveness after fully recovering from a fractured, dislocated hip that sidelined him for all but four games last season. He was signed to a five-year, $32 million contract in March. The Ravens also signed Daniels to work in tandem with him. Daniels has looked good in offseason practices and the Ravens are likely to use plenty of double tight-end sets. Gillmore figures into the equation as a blocking tight end.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Steve Smith, Torrey Smith. Backups - Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Kamar Aiken, Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams, Gerrard Sheppard, Jeremy Butler, Jace Davis, Mike Willie.
The addition of Steve Smith should give the Ravens an injection of toughness and experience the team has missed since trading Anquan Boldin. Torrey Smith should have more room to operate with Steve Smith working underneath. Brown is a red-zone threat who led the team in touchdown catches as a rookie. Jones has speed and size working in his favor, but isn't the most well-rounded receiver. Campanaro is an option out of the slot.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Ray Rice, FB Kyle Juszczyk. Backups - Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Cierre Wood, Fitzgerald Toussaint, FB Shaun Chapas.
The running game remains an area of concern because a heavier, hobbled Rice stumbled to a 660-yard season where he lacked tackle-breaking capabilities and his trademark elusiveness. He played as heavy as 225 pounds. He is now down to 210 pounds, which should help him regain his Pro-Bowl form. Rice had a serious off-field issue this offseason where he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for a domestic violence incident involving his wife. If Rice isn't suspended under the NFL personal-conduct policy, he should be set for a resurgent season. He should be extremely motivated to rebuild his reputation after a season he's acknowledged was awful. Pierce wasn't any better than Rice and is coming off rotator cuff surgery. The Ravens are going to give rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, a 230-pound small-school standout, a long look during training camp. Juszczyk is a versatile, pass-catching fullback. His blocking remains unproven. Forsett is a potential third-down back.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Eugene Monroe, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Rick Wagner. Backups -- LT James Hurst, LT David Mims, LG John Urschel, C Gino Gradkowski, C Reggie Stephens, RG A.Q. Shipley, RG Will Rackley, RT Ryan Jensen, RT Jah Reid, RT Parker Graham, RT Brett Van Sloten.
The Ravens re-signed Monroe as the cornerstone of their line to a $37.5 million contract. Osemele looked good during the spring after undergoing back surgery last fall. Zuttah should be an upgrade at center after arriving via an offseason trade. Yanda is the lone Pro-Bowl selection and is the mainstay of the line. Wagner is the biggest question mark as a first-time starter at right tackle. Gradkowski is the primary backup inside after starting every game at center last season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DT Brandon Williams, NT Haloti Ngata, DE Chris Canty. Backups -- DE Brent Urban, DE DeAngelo Tyson, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, DT A.J. Pataiali'i, DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Derrick Hopkins, DT Levi Brown, DT Jamie Meder.
The defensive line is in transition, with Arthur Jones leaving in free agency to join the Indianapolis Colts. Jernigan is competing with Williams, Tyson and Lewis-Moore to take over Jones' versatile role. The Ravens will need Ngata to be even more disruptive inside. Canty was far too quiet in his first season in Baltimore and could be pressed for playing time by Urban.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Terrell Suggs, OLB Courtney Upshaw, ILB Daryl Smith, ILB C.J. Mosley. Backups -- OLB Elvis Dumervil, ILB Arthur Brown, ILB Josh Bynes, OLB Nick DiMarco, ILB Albert McClellan, ILB Zach Orr, OLB Pernell McPhee, OLB John Simon, ILB Austin Spitler, OLB D.J. Roberts.
Although he's been in the NFL for a decade, Smith is one of the most underrated all-around defenders in the NFL. Smith remains fast in pursuit, sharp in pass coverage and is a good blitzer, contributing 123 tackles, three interceptions and five sacks last year as he proved he has plenty of good football left in him. Mosley is the front-runner to start next to Smith at inside linebacker. Suggs made the Pro Bowl for the sixth time, but the Ravens want to see him become more productive for the entire season after watching him wear down last year with just two sacks in the final nine games. In a situational pass-rusher role, Dumervil delivered 9.5 sacks before an ankle injury slowed him down. Upshaw unselfishly stuffs blockers and sets the edge at strong-side outside linebacker.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Lardarius Webb, CB Jimmy Smith, FS Darian Stewart, SS Matt Elam. Backups -- CB Aaron Ross, CB Dominique Franks, CB Chykie Brown, CB Asa Jackson, CB Deji Olatoye, CB Sammy Seamster, CB Tramain Jacobs, FS Terrence Brooks, FS Omar Brown, SS Anthony Levine, SS Brynden Trawick.
The Ravens exercised a fifth-year option for 2011 first-round pick Smith, who has emerged as one of the better young cornerbacks in the game. Webb was starting to get back his quickness and trust his surgically-repaired knee by the end of last season and should be back to full strength this year. Safety is an area of concern where the Ravens are hoping to move Elam back to his natural strong safety position to capitalize on his aggressiveness. To be able to make this move, either Brooks or Stewart needs to prove they can be counted on at free safety. Stewart is atop the depth chart for now. Nickel back is being contested between Brown, Jackson, Ross and Franks after Corey Graham signed with the Buffalo Bills.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox, RS Jacoby Jones, P Richie Leone.
This is one of the Ravens' strongest units, led by Tucker, a Pro-Bowl selection. Tucker emerged as a budding star last season with his clutch performances, including a franchise-record 61-yarder to beat the Detroit Lions as he booted six field goals. Tucker has become a reliable scoring weapon with his ability to hit long-distance field goals. Jones remains an explosive threat as a return man, helping the Ravens beat the Minnesota Vikings in the snow with a kickoff return for a touchdown last season. Koch was rumored to be on thin ice due to his salary-cap figure, but head coach John Harbaugh has insisted that the veteran punter is safe. The Ravens value the chemistry between Tucker, Koch, their holder, and reliable long snapper Cox.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB Bernard Scott (not tendered as UFA).
--WR Brandon Stokley (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--S Omar Brown (tendered at $570,000) will need a strong training camp to make the team.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--LB C.J. Mosley (1/17): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Timmy Jernigan (2/48): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Terrence Brooks (3/79): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Crockett Gillmore (3/99): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Brent Urban (4/134): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (4/138): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--C/G John Urschel (5/175): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Keith Wenning (6/194): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Michael Campanaro (7/218): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Josh Bynes: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--LB D.J. Bryant: ERFA; $420,000/1 yr.
--NT Terrence Cody: UFA; $730,000/1 yr.
--LB Adrian Hamilton: ERFA; $420,000/1 yr.
--S Anthony Levine: ERFA; $495,000/1 yr.
--LB Albert McClellan: Potential RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Jacoby Jones: UFA; $14M/4 yrs, $4.5M SB.
--S Jeromy Miles: UFA; terms unknown.
--T Eugene Monroe: UFA; $37.5M/5 yrs, $19M guaranteed.
--TE Dennis Pitta: Potential UFA; $32M/5 yrs, $16M guaranteed.
--LB Daryl Smith: UFA; $16.1M/4 yrs.
--S Brynden Trawick: ERFA; $495,000/1 yr.
--TE Owen Daniels: FA Texans; $1M/1 yr.
--RB Justin Forsett: FA Jaguars; $730,000/1 yr.
--CB Dominique Franks: Not tendered as UFA by Falcons; terms unknown.
--G Will Rackley: FA Jaguars; terms unknown.
--CB Aaron Ross: Not tendered as UFA by Giants; terms unknown.
--WR Steve Smith: FA Panthers; $10.5M/3 yrs, $3.5M SB.
--LB Austin Spitler: Not tendered as UFA by Dolphins; terms unknown.
--S Darian Stewart: UFA Rams; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--C/G Jeremy Zuttah (trade Buccaneers).
--TE Dallas Clark: Not tendered as UFA/retired.
--TE Ed Dickson: UFA Panthers; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--WR Tandon Doss: Not tendered as RFA/Jaguars; terms unknown.
--CB Corey Graham: UFA Bills; $16M/4 yrs.
--S James Ihedigbo: UFA Lions; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Arthur Jones: UFA Colts; $33M/5 yrs, $5.5M SB/$16M guaranteed.
--FB Vonta Leach (released).
--LB Jameel McClain (released).
--OT Michael Oher: UFA Titans; $20M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$9.35M guaranteed.
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