The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 19 for rookies; July 26 for veterans
Location: Owings Mill, Md.
BONUS UPDATE: Will the injuries to Joe Flacco and Kenneth DIxon derail the Ravens?
When we first published the Ravens’ three questions on July 19, they were a relatively healthy bunch. Some team always seems to have horrendous bad luck with training camp injuries, and it might be the Ravens this season. Dixon is done for the season after surgery to repair a torn meniscus. That takes a key piece of the running game out of the mix. Expect the Ravens to be searching for veteran help, perhaps in a trade, during camp. Then Baltimore got news on July 26 that quarterback Joe Flacco will miss time at the start of camp with a disc issue in his back. Most reports paint it as a week-to-week injury that doesn’t sound too major (though the initial report put the timetable at three-to-six weeks), but it’s not the way Flacco or the Ravens wanted to start camp. If Flacco is not himself all season, Baltimore’s offense could plummet. Veterans had barely reported to camp and already the Ravens have to wonder if they’re cursed this season.
1. Upon whom can Joe Flacco rely?
Steve Smith is retired. Kamar Aiken is in Indianapolis. Dennis Pitta is a free agent after a third (and potentially career-ending) hip dislocation. Combined, that’s 185 receptions for 1,856 yards — over 42 percent in both categories — of last year’s production gone. Pitta and Smith were the team’s most reliable pass-catchers in short- and medium-depth routes. That allowed speedster Mike Wallace to have his best season since 2011. So who steps up now? Jeremy Maclin was an important addition, and he’s expected to play in the slot. When he’s healthy — he wasn’t last year — Maclin can fit this offense well as a reliable target who provides some verticality as well. His health is very important. But the player who absolutely has to step up is Breshad Perriman. He has all the physical attributes: a 4.24 forty, a 6’2″, 214-pound frame and 18 reps on the bench at the combine. But he’s still raw as a route-runner, and he had the highest drop rate of any wide receiver with more than 50 targets last season. If Perriman can capitalize on his physical skills and become a more complete receiver, that will do this offense a world of good.
2. Who generates pressure on the passer?
With Elvis Dumervil hurting, the Ravens’ pass rush fell off a cliff last year. Baltimore posted a 5.09 sack percentage. That was good for 25th in the league, 10 spots lower than the previous year. Dumervil is gone and so, too, is Timmy Jernigan, whose five sacks last year was second on the team. Terrell Suggs is still terrorizing quarterbacks from one side, but someone else must create pressure, and that someone might have to be a rookie. The Ravens drafted with creating havoc as a priority. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had 12.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in just eight games for the University of Houston last year. Bowser showed well in minicamp, and he’ll need to contribute immediately opposite Suggs. Chris Wormley, a third-rounder, had nine tackles for loss and six sacks last year at Michigan. He should be in the defensive line rotation by season’s start.
3. Can someone separate himself from the running back pack?
The Ravens haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2014, which also is the last year the team made the postseason. That’s no coincidence. Justin Forsett, who had taken over as the lead back after the team cut Ray Rice in 2014, is retired. The Ravens have plenty of bodies at the position, but not one out of Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Kennth Dixon or Javorius Allen has separated himself. Dixon showed well at times after a torn MCL slowed him at the start of the season, but he’s suspended for the team’s first four games. West got the bulk of the work last season and was solid but unspectacular. Taliaferro could move to fullback. The team also added third-down weapon Danny Woodhead, who is 32 and coming off a torn ACL. The opportunity is there for any of these players. A committee approach hasn’t proved helpful the past few seasons.
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