Top 5 questions facing Ravens as training camp looms

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The NFL offseason is finally over, and the Baltimore Ravens are looking to bounce back. In 2015 the Ravens finished 5-11, their first losing season since 2007 and the first under head coach John Harbaugh. In order to make 2015 a season to forget, the Ravens have a lot of questions to answer as training camp gets underway.

On Friday injured veterans and rookies officially reported to the Under Armour performance center in Owings Mills. The rest of the team will report on Wednesday, and the first full practice of training camp takes place on Thursday.

A lot of questions are facing the Ravens right now that fans are eager to see answered. Here are some of the key situations to keep an eye on as training camp plays out.

1. Will the injured veterans be ready for week 1?

Joe Flacco

A big reason why 2015 was such a disaster for the Ravens was because of several season-ending injuries suffered by their top veterans. Joe Flacco tore his ACL and MCL, Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. suffered torn Achilles tendons, Justin Forsett broke his arm, Elvis Dumervil had off-season surgery on his foot, and Jeremy Zuttah, Crockett Gillmore, Michael Campanaro, Lorenzo Taliaferro, among others all ended the season on injured reserve with numerous injuries. Whew.

The good news for the Ravens is that some of these guys are already cleared for practice at the start of training camp without restrictions. Flacco’s knee is healed and he has been throwing over the past few weeks to get his arm ready. It will be interesting to see how his knee holds up with defenders chasing after him (even though they cannot hit him in practice). Forsett’s arm is fully healed and he was a full-participant in the Ravens’ offseason program. Gillmore, Zuttah, Taliaferro and Campanaro are all ready for camp, although Campanaro missed all of OTA’s and mini-camp with a hamstring injury.

On the other hand, there are the veterans who will begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. It was announced on Saturday that Dumervil, Suggs, and Smith Sr. would not be ready for the start of camp. Suggs has not spoke to the media since suffering his injury in week 1 of the 2015 season. He did say at the end of mini-camp that he would meet with the media at the start of training camp, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say. Smith recently posted a video of him running, so even though he will not practice right away the Ravens expect him to be ready for week 1. Dumervil’s off-season procedure will hold him back, but he is another veteran who the Ravens see ready to play come week 1.

The players placed on the PUP list can be activated at any time through training camp.

Three other players were placed on the PUP list: Wideout Breshad Perriman, running back Trent Richardon, and cornerback Jumal Rolle.

2. Will Breshad Perriman be ready for week 1?

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Back in mini-camp the Ravens were hit with some bad news, as wide receiver Breshad Perriman suffered another knee injury during practice. The 2015 first round pick missed all of last season with a partially-torn PCL in his right knee. This time, the injury described as a right ACL injury, does not appear to be season-ending. Perriman met with Dr. James Andrews who took a look at the knee and found no tear. Andrews gave Perriman a stem-cell injection to speed up the healing process, but Perriman will still not be ready for the start of training camp.

The real question now for Perriman is when will he return, and how explosive will he be?Last year’s injury at first was a “day to day” injury, but turned into a season-ending one. The Ravens are hoping for good fortune with Perriman this time around, but are not getting their hopes up based on how last year went.

The Ravens are counting on Perriman to be the downfield threat that they lacked in 2015, so hopefully Perriman can get on the practice field and will be ready for week 1.

3. How will the offensive position battles play out?

The Ravens have a lot of depth on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at tight end, running back and wide receiver.

One of the key free-agent signings the Ravens made was bringing in tight-end Benjamin Watson. Watson had a career year last year in New Orleans, catching 74 passes for 826 yards and six touchdowns. He is 36, but will be a leader both on and off the field. Many experts think Crockett Gillmore could have a break-out season for Baltimore. It was looking like 2015 could have been that year, but Gillmore missed six games and ended the season on injured reserve. The Ravens also have second-year man Maxx Williams, who will look to build off of a strong rookie season that ended with him catching 36 passes.

Then there is Dennis Pitta, who has suffered two hip dislocations to the same hip and did not play a snap in 2015. After pondering retirement, Pitta has been cleared for training camp and plans to play in 2016. Will his hip hold up?

At running back, most are assuming that Justin Forsett will once again be the starter. Buck Allan enters his second year after starting the last six games of 2015 after Forsett went down. The Ravens drafted Louisville Tech’s Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, and many draft experts thought he had second-round talent.

Three other running backs are battling for roster spots – Taliaferro, Richardson and Terrance West. Taliaferro has not been able to stay on the field after suffering two season-ending foot injuries in his first two years in the NFL. Richardson has been a huge bust after going third overall in the 2012 NFL Draft and will be at a disadvantage in training camp with his hamstring injury. West came on late in 2015 and impressed John Harbaugh with his professionalism and desire to improve his game.

Wide receiver is the third position battle frenzy on offense for Baltimore. Steve Smith is expected to be a starter, but at 37 years of age his role may diminish. With Smith and Perriman out, Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Chris Moore, Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro and Keenan Reynolds will be the players to watch.

Aiken was the Ravens’ top receiver in 2015, catching 75 passes for 944 yards. Unless he has a big setback in camp, he will be one of Baltimore’s top receivers. The same can be said for Wallace, who the Ravens signed this offseason in free agency. Wallace’s best years were with the Steelers, and he has not put up the same type of numbers the past three seasons with Miami and Minnesota. Wallace is a burner and the Ravens are hoping that having Joe Flacco as his quarterback will allow Wallace to excel at what he does best – catching the deep ball.

The Ravens drafted Cincinnati’s Moore in the fourth round of the draft and Navy’s Reynolds in the sixth round. Moore is another downfield threat that could match up well with Flacco. Reynolds is going to be making a positional change after playing quarterback at Navy. The Ravens also see him working at returner, something Reynolds has never done. Butler had a very impressive camp last year and was a solid possession receiver late last season, but there may not be a spot for him and Campanaro. Campanaro has shown flashes of being the slot receiver the Ravens need, but he cannot stay on the field. If he wants to make the team, he needs to stay healthy.

4. Will Ozzie Newsome bring in free agents to fill holes on the roster? 

The Ravens did a solid job of filling needs at key positions this offseason, but two holes remain – left guard and inside linebacker.

As of now, the Ravens have their entire starting offensive line figured out except for left guard. John Urschel started seven games last season at guard and center, and did a respectable job. He is smart from a technique standpoint. However, he lacks the athleticism and the force football teams look for in lineman. The Ravens drafted Nebraska tackle Alex Lewis in the fourth round of the draft, but he was drafted as a tackle, not a guard. If he starts, he will have to make the adjustment to guard, as the Ravens are planning on Ronnie Stanley and Rick Wagner being their starting tackles. Baltimore also has Ryan Jensen, who has starting experience.

At inside linebacker, CJ Mosley will take over the reigns of the line-backing core after Daryl Smith was released and signed with Tampa Bay. At this point, we do not know who the other starting inside linebacker will be. Zachary Orr and Arthur Brown are the favorites to land that job. Orr came on late in 2015 in mainly passing situations. Brown is now in his fourth year and has been a disappointment after being a second-round pick in 2013. He has played sparingly but will get an opportunity to win the job. Albert McClellan has been a special teams stand-out, but has not played a lot on defense.

At this point, there are not many options on the free agent market, but signing a veteran at either of these positions would provide leadership and depth. Ozzie Newsome has brought in players during camp before, and if he does it again expect it to be at either guard or linebacker.

5. Will Eric Weddle & Leslie Frazier’s presence improve the secondary?

It is no secret that the Ravens have had their issues in the secondary over the past few seasons. In 2015 the Ravens intercepted six passes, a league low. Baltimore addressed this in the offseason, bringing in safety Eric Weddle, cornerback Jerraud Powers and secondary coach Leslie Frazier.

Weddle is a three-time pro-bowler who has 19 career interceptions, including seven in 2011. He is tough as nails and will be the vocal leader in the secondary that Baltimore has lacked since Ed Reed left. Powers has starting experience and will most likely be the Ravens’ top slot corner. Frazier is a former player and head coach in the NFL, and won a Super bowl as the Colts’ defensive backs coach in 2006.

The Ravens are hoping that these additions, particularly Weddle and Frazier, will help the secondary improve as Lardarius Webb makes a positonal change to safety and Jimmy Smith continues to recover from a foot injury. Smith played the entire 2015 season, but did not look like himself until the second half of the season. He just got the screws removed from his foot this offseason even though it had been over a year since he suffered the injury.

After everything that has happened since the 2015 season ended, this may be one of the more anticipated training camps of recent memory for the Ravens. A winning mentality has taken over Baltimore since the Harbaugh era began, as the team has made the playoffs in six out of the eight seasons that Harbaugh has coached the team. In order to get back to that level, a lot needs to happen.

There are a bunch of other situations that will be figured out all throughout August, but these are the top things to watch out for as the Ravens kick off training camp.

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