Baltimore Ravens Camp Battles to Watch: Offense

It’s the off-season. That means talking heads droning on and on about insignificant drama. It seems like these stories are often inflated or all together fictional. With training camp just around the corner, we chose to highlight actual drama and a budding competition between several of the Raven’s offensive positions.

Offense:

Quarterback

Current Roster: Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III, Lamar Jackson (R), Josh Woodrum

Ever since Joe Flacco received a, then, league altering contract after winning super bowl XLVII in 2012, he has never been the same quarterback. Fans expected the Elite; yeah I said it, Flacco. Fans expected the Joe-cool whose icy veins threw for almost 4,000 yards, 22 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and carried a passer rating of 87.7. Then, Flacco, went on to mastermind an incredible post season where he beat Luck, Manning, Brady and Kaepernick to win super bowl XLVII and, he even took home the SBMVP trophy.  Instead of that, we got Joe dirt. In 2013, aside from buyer’s remorse, we got a 19 touchdown, 22 interception, (a generous) 73.1 passer rating, cap-space nightmare that shaped the state of our team for the better part of a decade.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

To his credit, Joe really turned his game around in 2014. Unfortunately, he turned it right into the injury bug that struck throughout those dark years. After returning from an ACL tear in 2015, Joe threw for a career high 4,317 yards in the 2016 season. The front office failed to keep our wide receiver corps up to league standards and the Ravens began to falter. Much of the fandom’s ire has fallen on Joe of late. His apparent lack of empathy, and hefty price tag, has made fans rumble. For what it is worth, Joe has shown plenty of emotion and has been just as devastated as we have at the recent season ending.

Our offense has been boring, to put it lightly. In 2016 the offense ranked as one of the worst in the league. This overshadows the fact that the Ravens haven’t had even a semblance of consistency at the offensive coordinator position. Now that Marty Morningweg is on-board for another season he brings some stability to the position. He faces pressure however. For the past two seasons, the Ravens have been one game away from post season play. As a perennial contender, we have to constantly refresh our image.

The front office refreshed the heck out of our image by drafting LAMAR FREAKING JACKSON. They heard the calls and could see the writing on the wall for the direction of the league. Ozzie’s swan song draft not only gave our offense a facelift, but created an entire storyline and issued an interesting challenge.

Jackson’s electrifying play-style catapulted him to the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and pushed Louisville into the national spotlight which the school hadn’t enjoyed since the Teddy Bridgewater years. Yet, leading up to the combine, Jackson was pegged as a wide receiver or running back which ignores the 9,043 yards he threw for at Louisville. Jackson, to his credit, remained adamant that he wanted to be a quarterback. This staunch position turned several quarterback-needy teams off from Jackson and allowed the Wizard of Oz[zie] to grant one parting wish.

Now that camp is around the corner many fans speculate that Jackson will be an immediate contributor and was brought in to change up the game from day one. That’s simply not true and would set Jackson up to fail. Before you write that angry comment, let me explain it like this –

Before the draft, the Ravens picked up Robert Griffin III (RG III), another Heisman trophy recipient. That move indicated the Raven’s interest in changing their style of offense to be more electric and fun (got to put butts in seats). To me, that also indicated our interest in quarterbacks similar to RGIII. After all, RGIII, while injury prone, is not a terrible quarterback and was awarded the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and threw for more than 3,000 yards in his first two years, remember? I speculate that the Ravens will have RGIII guide Jackson through his first NFL season while simultaneously backing up Flacco and showcasing the new direction that our offense is seeking. What that also means, ideally, is that this is the swan song season of Joe Flacco in Baltimore.

While this off-season quarterback battle is probably already decided, it will also serve as an opportunity for Flacco to sling the rock well enough to land on a decent team when we part ways in 2019. That would allow us to get out from under his contract and breathe a little cap-space air. Then again, if the season starts sliding, having both RGIII, and Jackson, on the roster would allow the Ravens an opportunity to shift gears a little earlier than they had anticipated while still salvaging the season.

Running Back

Yeah, there’s still more to this article. I know, right? Try writing it.

Current Roster: Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Ricky Ortiz, John Crockett, Patrick Ricard

Whew, what a crowded stable of running backs. If Alex Collins takes even the slightest step forward, this battle would be over before it could begin. Once Collins fixed his fumbling problem, he became a reliable workhorse that provided highlight reel paly to an otherwise stagnant and laborious offense.

Close on Collin’s heels are Javorius “Buck” Allen, Kenneth Dixon and John Crockett.  Allen and Dixon are both primarily pass-catching backs, and that will most likely continue to be their mainstay. Of the two, Dixon has the most to prove. He has seen limited action, due to a pre-season injury and illegal substance penalties, since being drafted in the fourth round out of Louisiana Tech in 2016. Allen has been a mainstay in Baltimore for the past few seasons, even being given the starting role over Terrence West during his tumultuous fall from grace. Dixon and Allen both exist as wonderful compliments to Collins and create a figurative three-headed monster in our backfield. This camp battle will mostly be jostling for position and game time between Allen and Dixon. My money is on Dixon.

Okay, hot-take: 2018 is the year Ricky Ortiz either steps up and takes over as FB, or gets cut. Don’t @ me. Ricard’s play was great last year and if Ortiz doesn’t make the jump, there is no reason to waste a roster spot on him. We have other areas to consider.

Tight End:

Current Roster: Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle, Hayden Hurst (R), Mark Andrews (R)

Ozzie Newsome, a hall of fame tight end, knew this was a position of need heading in to the 2017 offseason. In his last draft as General Manager, Ozzie masterfully selected two future tight ends that served two purposes. One, they become immediate, pass-catching, targets for Joe Flacco and two, they become young, dual tight threats for our quarterback of the future (no pressure, Jackson. It’s #LamarJacksonSZN). In the near term, I predict that Boyle and Williams will continue to play a major role in blocking with H. Hurst and Andrews learning their positions and seeing consistent field time. My only concern, here, is the jump from NCAA to NFL caliber opponents and game-speed. We’ll probably cut Vince, but it will be interesting to see him battle it out with other bubble players in this group.

Offensive Line:

Current Roster:

  • Tackle – Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown (R), Steven Moore, Alex Lewis, Greg Senat (R), Maurice Shakir
  • Guard – Marshal Yanda, James Hurst, Nico Saragusa, Andrew Donnal, Jermaine Eluemunor
  • Center – Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman

That’s a lot of beef. Offensive Linemen will always have a special place in my heart. Their play is criminally chalked up to, “a necessary part of the game” when in fact; this is the most important position on the offense. Yeah, I said it. I don’t want to hear about you pretty position players getting all the fame and glory. The trench is where this game is won or lost. @ me all you want, but it won’t change my mind. Now that I have made my position known, we can break down this camp battle, or lack thereof.

With the release of Austin Howard the Ravens opened up an immediate and crucial need. Right tackle. Ozzie, again, served up immediate filler in Orlando Brown. Who, despite an atrocious combine, could still be one of the best storylines this season and an immediate starter (provided he works hard). I still don’t know why ourlads.com listed Lewis at a tackle, but our entire line is very fluid. Our offensive line is very versatile and we won’t know what the starting five will look like until week 1. Rookie project Greg Senat will be fun to watch this off season, but what Ozzie did best in this draft was to address the depth problem. We, probably, won’t carry all of these players in to the season, and will ideally park some on our practice squad.

Stanley, Brown and Yanda are all locks, in my mind, to start barring any major setback for Brown. The most interesting battle of this position group will be who will start at Center and Guard opposite Yanda. We have several options currently and I speculate that Skura will start at Center. There could also be a general rotation as well, but that would be unlikely given that whoever the Center is will have to gel with Flacco quickly to eliminate handoff errors and overshot snaps.

Wide Receivers:

Current Roster:  Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead IV, Chris Moore, Tim White, Quincy Adeboyjo, Jordan Lasley (R), Jaleel Scott (R), Breshad Perriman

Only a few of these names look familiar from last year. We have two up-side prospects and one first-round disappointment. I know my disdain for Perriman is as thinly veiled as Mike Tomlin not knowing he was on the field for Jones’s kick return, but over the past few seasons he has not given me any reason to stand behind him. I wish him the best in this league, but he isn’t going to be at his best, here, in Baltimore. I hope that he finds a team that supports him enough to actualize his raw talent. However, for now, I think it’s time for him to go.

Other than his departure, the two remaining Raven veterans, Chris Moore and Quincy Adeboyjo both need to step their game up as we come in to another season of playoff contention. Rookies Scott and Lasley could play their way into our wide receiver rotation if they have solid camps. Coming back from injured reserve, UDFA Tim White has the opportunity to build on his pre-season success and show fans if he is for real.

I don’t project many surprises from this group. It’s easy to know who our starting wide receivers will be. The only battle will be a bubble watch that will be a separate article as camp gets under way.

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