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Ravens News 7/15: Punt return battle, finding Tucker and more

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Training Camp Position Breakdown: Defensive Line - Clifton Brown

Wormley has the inside track to start at defensive end following Brent Urban’s departure during free agency. Both Wormley and Sieler looked good during minicamps, and they’ll push each other once training camp starts.

Two defensive tackles to watch closely are Henry and “Mack Truck” Mack. Henry missed 13 games last season but feels fully recovered from his back injury. A fourth-round pick in 2016, Henry had 3 ½ sacks in 2017 and believes he can help the Ravens’ pass rush by bringing pressure up the middle.

The question is whether Mack makes an immediate impact as a rookie after getting 5 ½ sacks last year at Texas A&M.

The Starting Job Most Up for Grabs - John Eisenberg

The kickoff and punt return jobs are also up for grabs, with so many possibilities in play that I can’t address them all.

Ordinarily, Cyrus Jones would be favored to win the punt return job after handling it well last season, but he missed minicamp due to an unspecified health issue, opening the door to other candidates. I’d keep an eye on running back Tyler Ervin, who handled the job well for the Houston Texans before being cut last year and landing on the Ravens’ practice squad.

Yes, the Ravens already have more running backs than they need, but a punt returner is important enough to make the roster strictly for that skill, as Jones did last season.

As for the kickoff return job, it seemingly becomes less important every year – the Ravens only returned 32 kickoffs in 16 games in 2018.

Ranking defensive triplets; a growing trend in NFL team-building - Bucky Brooks

Can the Ravens’ new-look defense really eclipse last year’s unit?

Sure, most teams subscribe to the “next man up” theory, with backups expected to replace the production of departed starters, but it’s hard for most teams to survive the loss of just one blue-chip player in the offseason and remain a dominant unit. The Ravens would need to overcome the departures of four standout playmakers -- and make up for the significant leadership void created by their defections.

Some will point to Jimmy Smith and Tony Jefferson as “holdovers” with the potential to emerge as leaders on a defense in the midst of transition, and the addition of Earl Thomas and his championship pedigree will also play a role in the unit’s ability to remain on its lofty perch. However, the six-time Pro Bowl safety is bouncing back from a broken left leg and learning a defensive scheme that’s far more complex than the Cover 3 defense he thrived in with the Seattle Seahawks.

That said, the Ravens’ secondary is the strength of the defense, with Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carrand Tavon Young joining Smith, Jefferson and Thomas to form arguably the deepest and most talented unit in the league. They can stymie most WR corps with their sticky coverage and tenacious playing style that frustrates and wears down receivers over a 60-minute game.

Studying the tape, the Ravens’ pass rush has to be the biggest concern heading into the season.

Judon certainly could be the next star to break out in Baltimore after tallying 15 sacks over the past two seasons, but he’s an unproven commodity as a No. 1 pass rusher. No. 99 enjoyed the luxury of playing opposite Suggs for the first three seasons of his career and benefitted from seeing one-on-ones on the back side. With opponents now free to focus on Judon on passing downs, we will get a chance to see if he can win when everyone knows he is a designated playmaker.

Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray have flashed at times during their careers, but it’s been years since they teased the football world with truly dominant moments.

Tim Williams could be the wild card of the bunch. The third-year pro collected a pair of sacks in seven games as a situational rusher for the team. With more opportunities to get on the field in 2019, he could give the Ravens another rusher to throw into the mix.

Finding Justin Tucker: How Ravens landed ‘best in history of the game’ - Jamison Hensley

Jerry Rosburg, retired Ravens special-teams coordinator:”Like I do every year, I gleaned through all of the kicking possibilities. I’m going to go through the stats in the NCAA, and I’m going to find every draft-eligible kicker that has decent numbers. Justin Tucker had that, and I put the tape on. His talent jumped off the tape at me.”

Justin Tucker: ”Coach Rosburg waited until two days before the draft to come to Austin to work me out. I think he probably had a good idea that they wanted to bring me in. They didn’t want to tip their hand and have somebody else get excited that, ‘Oh, Coach Rosburg, who we respect, is working this kid out. We need to take another look at him.’ So, he waited until nobody could work me out, which, looking back, is really smart.”

John Harbaugh, Ravens coach: ”I’m not throwing our doctors under the bus, because they know it’s true. They failed his physical at first because he had a little back issue. It’s like, he’s a kicker. He’s just been kicking four years for Texas with whatever he’s got. We’re going to fail him on the physical? I put on my doctor’s hat and overruled the doctors. I think it turned out pretty well.”

Harbaugh: ”I remember going around the table of the coaches and asking every coach who they thought should be the kicker: Billy or the new kid. It was pretty much Billy. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was pretty solidly toward Billy. Then, I said, ‘There’s really only one vote that counts anyway, so Tucker is going to be the kicker.’”