The Baltimore Ravens are currently looking ahead to next season with only two proven wide receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. The Ravens have had little success over the past few years finding the right wide receivers to place opposite Boldin. Two years ago the Ravens signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh who played well but didn’t boost the Ravens’ passing attack as much as had been hoped and last off-season, the Ravens traded for Lee Evans who struggled mightily to stay healthy throughout the year and ultimately dropped a potential game-winning pass against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens have made a conscious effort over the past couple of seasons trying to build their receiving group through the draft. Last year’s draft haul for the Ravens included a total of three new receivers: Torrey Smith (2nd round), Tandon Doss (4th round), and LaQuan Williams (Un-drafted FA). While Torrey Smith was able to showcase his skill-set last season as a premier deep-threat, Doss and Williams have yet to contribute much to the Ravens’ offense overall. Doss suited up for six games last season but did not record a single catch, and Williams caught 4 balls for 46 yards.
GM Ozzie Newsome expressed his desire to build depth at the wide receiver position this off-season and Head Coach John Harbaugh let it be known this week that both Doss and Williams will have to battle it out against each other and any players that the Ravens can or will add this off-season:
"If a better player comes in and beats those guys out and pushes one of those guys back, or two of those guys back, it would make us even better. But those guys will all be playing in that No.3 type, if you want to call it that role, three or four receiver."
(After the "Jump", see what else Harbaugh has to say on the young receivers and hear Boldin’s vote of confidence for the 2nd year players)
The Ravens seem content and confident in heading into next season with Boldin and T. Smith as the #1 and #2 wide receivers, respectively. But beyond the two starting roles, the Ravens have a few question marks as to who will fill the role behind the incumbent starters.
As is, the Ravens seldom use 3 wide receiver sets, so it’s likely that whoever does fill the open spots behind Boldin and T. Smith will see a modicum of playing time. Even still, Harbaugh had many positive things to say about Doss but admitted it’s going to take some time for him to adjust in order to be completely ready and effective in the NFL:
"Tandon was a more polished receiver than a lot of guys, but he wasn’t physically quite ready to beat somebody out. But Tandon is going to be a really good player. I think the weight room and the offseason program is going to be huge for him. We’re counting on him to be a big factor this year."
Harbaugh makes a good point about the off-season program helping the young receivers. Faced with the tough and unusual situation that last year’s lockout presented, the Ravens’ young receivers were faced with the incredibly difficult task of getting NFL-ready with limited coaching and a very small amount of time spent with the playbook. Wide receiver is perhaps one of the most difficult positions for young players to transition smoothly from college to the professional level. The intricacies of pro-style offenses and the level of competition that receivers face is unparalleled to anything they have ever seen before, and add in a lockout on top of that and it should have been expected that a few of the Ravens’ receivers wouldn’t quite be ready for NFL action.
Boldin took both Doss and Williams under his wing this past season and came away very impressed with both young receivers. Boldin gave especially high praise to Williams:
"As the season went on, he started getting the technique that Coach [Jim] Hostler was looking for. He was beating guys in one-on-one coverage every day in practice. LaQuan was real smooth."
Boldin didn’t divulge as to whom he though would become the Ravens’ #3 receiver, but he believes that either is capable of stepping into that role:
"Those guys are more than capable of stepping into that No. 3 spot," he said. "I’ve seen them develop from training camp last year toward the end of the season."
Certainly, both Doss and Williams will look to contribute more next season in some capacity. Though the 6-2 205 lbs. Doss may have the physical edge, Williams (6-0 200 lbs.) has proven to be one of the Ravens’ most dependable Special Teams players and could earn more playing time through his versatility.
Either way, this will be an exciting training camp battle to keep a close watch on, especially when the Ravens add some new players into the mix this off-season most likely through the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft.