The Baltimore Ravens truly begin their season today, April 16th 2012. With the first organized team activities (OTAs) scheduled to begin today, this will be the first building block for the Ravens as they prepare for the upcoming season.
Though these workouts are voluntary in nature and several players will be absent, it's the first of many steps that the Ravens will take in preparation for the grueling upcoming summer-time training camps and beyond. For some of the younger players, it will be a chance to get into and maintain their "football shape", but more importantly it will be their first opportunity this year to impress the coaches which could eventually lead to more on-field time. On the flip side, these workouts will give coaches a chance to evaluate the roster, see who has or hasn't been working hard this off-season, and will generally help the coaches get a feel for how their roster is taking shape which could correlate directly to how the Ravens approach the rest of the off-season; mainly the draft and free agency.
Geared towards giving the young players a leg-up heading into next season, these workouts will be the first of many opportunities for players to begin battling it out against one another for playing time this season, or even starting positions.
(After the "Jump", see a quick breakdown of some of the best training camp battles to look forward to.)
Though the draft has yet to happen and it may be a bit premature to begin speculating as to how these battles may flesh out, the Ravens have a tremendous amount of youth and depth strewn throughout their roster. The Ravens are constantly promoting players through their ranks when the time comes and surely when the Ravens take the field for the first time this year, after the dust has settled from these training camp battles, there will be a couple of new, young Ravens in the starting lineup.
Jimmy Smith vs. Cary Williams: The Ravens have turned what once was one of the NFL's worst secondaries (ranked 21s overall in 2010) into one of the league's finest units (ranked 4th overall in 2011). The quick turnaround is due in large part to the Ravens' young, talented, up and coming cornerbacks. The Ravens recently locked up star cornerback Lardarius Webb to a long term deal and the team has their sights set on doing the same for Cary Williams, one of the biggest surprises last season out of each player on the entire roster. With Webb seemingly cemented as the #1 starting cornerback, J. Smith and Williams will battle it out for the #2 slot this off-season. Though Smith was hampered with an injury throughout last season he turned up his play down the stretch and into the playoffs, showing flashes of his shut-down potential. Currently, the Ravens have three solid starting defensive backs in Webb, Smith, and Williams, and with Smith and Williams fighting it out this off-season to start opposite Webb, that level of healthy competition should bring out the best in everyone.
Sergio Kindle vs. Mike McAdoo: With the departure of veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, the Ravens seem ready to promote Paul Kruger into the vacant spot as a pass-rusher opposite Terrell Suggs. Behind Kruger, the Ravens have two raw, unproven OLBs in both Kindle and McAdoo. Once thought to be the answer to the Ravens' need for a pass-rush specialist opposite Suggs, the 2010 2nd round pick Kindle has yet to show much of anything on the field. After suffering a head injury before his rookie season, Kindle has been behind the 8-ball from the start and this could be his make-or-break season with the Ravens. Fighting it out with Kindle for the open spot behind Kruger will be Mike McAdoo, the undrafted free agent out of the University of North Carolina. As a bit of an unknown and a wild-card in the mix, the Ravens brought in the physically gifted linebacker/defensive end knowing that he would be a bit of a project with tremendous upside. Standing at 6-7 245 lbs., the Ravens thought highly enough of McAdoo to keep him on the roster instead of moving him to the practice squad where he could have been up for grabs by other franchises. This will be a great battle to keep a close eye on as one of the next great Ravens pass-rushers could be a product of these two duking it out.
LaQuan Williams vs. Tandon Doss: Though the Ravens made it clear that they will bring in new-blood to the competition at wide receiver this off-season, the team still has talent within their own roster that will fight it out for the open spots behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Both L. Williams and Doss will be fighting it out for the open #3 spot at receiver this off-season (barring the team make a big splash in whats left on the free agency market and taking a top-flight receiver in the upcoming draft). With both having limited NFL experience, this battle could be anyone's for the taking. With glue for hands, Doss seems like the logical choice to move into the starting line-up as they desperately need a reliable target that can convert third-downs and be a presence in the red zone; the Ravens struggled with dropped passes all last season and the Ravens will want to turn that around. But on the other hand, L. Williams is more versatile as he is also a great asset on special teams which could put him in line for more activations on game-day rosters. The wide receiver position will be one of the most exciting roster pieces to watch unfold this off-season.
Of course the Ravens will be adding several new talents onto their roster in just a few weeks time, but with the team loaded with some great, albeit in some cases unproven talent, there will be a ton of great roster battles to watch as this off-season unfolds before us.
Other training camp battles to keep an eye on include:
Billy Cundiff vs. unknown kicker competition
Jah Reid vs. unknown left guard competition
Add your own training camp battle scenarios and what you think the outcome of some of these matchups could be in the comments section below!