Coach John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens are hoping to return to contention. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Head coach John Harbaugh is confident his Baltimore Ravens enter training camp with enough talent and depth to end a two-year playoff drought.
Baltimore returned to its defensive roots in the offseason by selecting a cornerback, two linebackers and a 300-pound defensive tackle with its first four picks in the 2017 draft. The team strengthened its beleaguered secondary by adding free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr.
After struggling with injuries the past two seasons, the added personnel should provide some needed relief. That was a key area of focus for General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
"As Ozzie says all the time, you need to build as much depth into your roster as you can, because injuries are going to happen," Harbaugh said.
The key for Harbaugh is to keep his playmakers healthy heading into the regular season opener Sept. 10 against division rival Cincinnati. In 2015, receiver Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick, suffered a knee injury in the first full practice and missed the season, hampering the passing attack.
Last year, tight end Benjamin Watson suffered a torn Achilles in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Watson showed his commitment to Baltimore in the offseason, reportedly agreeing to reduce his salary from $3 million to $1.25 million.
"The toughest thing is going to be that transition," Watson said about preparing for training camp. "Once you get out there in training camp, having not played in a year, your body has to get used to football movements."
While the Ravens have added depth at several skill positions, there are still questions with the offensive line. The team traded starting center Jeremy Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason. Starting right tackle Rick Wagner signed with the Lions as a free agent.
Harbaugh is prepared to move forward with John Urschel and Ryan Jensen filling those roles. Guard Marshal also has the versatility to play anywhere on the line.
"They are both going to have to play center and guard," Harbaugh said. "Most of those guys inside do play all three positions. Marshal plays center. I do not know if you knew that, but he is kind of an emergency center. Marshal plays everything; he could probably play quarterback. Those guys will both get work, and they are competing."
Newsome, however, could add another player that gets released during camp. Center Nick Mangold, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is still available and could provide another veteran presence on the line for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Harbaugh is confident the team will improve on last year's 8-8 record. After winning a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, Harbaugh is ready to recapture some of that success.
"I don't want to overstate the expectations, but I'm not afraid to do that, really," Harbaugh said. "I expect these guys to be great. I know the guys believe that, and they expect the same thing. We expect to put a great team on the field, and all three phases work together and complement one another. And you do, you want to be as strong in every phase that you possibly can."
TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS
--Boost the running game. The Ravens were ranked 28th in the NFL with 1,484 carries. However, the running backs were effective with the limited opportunities they were given as Baltimore was ranked 30th with 367 rushing attempts. That will likely change this season with the hiring of Greg Roman as the offensive assistant/tight ends coach. In four of his five full seasons (2011-15) as an offensive coordinator with Buffalo and San Francisco, Roman's rushing attack ranked in the NFL's Top 5. Terrance West. who finished with 774 yards and five touchdowns on 193 carries, was already named the starter. Veteran Danny Woodhead was signed in the offseason to provide another boost.
--Develop a pass rush. Baltimore was tied with the L.A. Rams and Houston for 24th in the NFL with 31 sacks. As a result, the Ravens prioritized their pass rush in the offseason. Baltimore selected Tyus Bowser of Houston in the second round of this year's NFL Draft and then took Tim Williams from Alabama one round later. Both are high-energy players that showed a tenacity to get to the quarterback in college. They hope one of those players can be the heir apparent to linebacker Terrell Suggs, the franchise's all-time sacks leader who turns 35 in October.
--Fix the secondary. Coach John Harbaugh said the team needs to create more turnovers in the secondary. Therefore, the Ravens drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft from Alabama. The team also added veteran cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson via free agency. However, this unit suffered a blow in the offseason when second-year player Tavon Young went down with a season-ending knee injury in the OTAs. After that injury, the Ravens added Brandon Boykin, Otha Foster and Al-Hajj Shabazz for depth. Veteran Jimmy Smith needs to show he can stay healthy.
PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Joe Flacco. Backups - Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Terrance West, FB Lorenzo Taliaferro. Backups - Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon, Buck Allen, Taquan Mizzell, FB Ricky Ortiz.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Benjamin Watson. Backups - Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Ryan Malleck.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin. Backups - Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Matthews, Chris Moore, Vince Mayle, Keenan Reynolds, Quincy Adeboyejo, Aaron Bailey, Kenny Bell, C.J. Board, Tim Patrick, Tim White.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Alex Lewis, C John Urschel, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Ryan Jensen. Backups - T James Hurst, G Nico Siragusa, G Jarell Broxton, Jermaine Eluemunor, T Roubbens Joseph, T Stephane Nembot, G Jarrod Pughsley, G Maurquice Shakir, C Matt Skura, G/T De'Ondre Wesley.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DT Bronson Kaufusi, NT Brandon William, DE Matt Judon. Backups - DT Chris Wormley, DT Michael Pierce, Michael, DT Patrick Ricard, NT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Terrell Suggs, MLB CJ Mosley, MLB Kamalei Correa, OLB Tyus Bowser. Backups - OLB Matt Judon, OLB Za'Darius Smith, OLB Tim Williams, ILB Anthony Levine, ILB Lamar Louis, ILB Bam Bradley, ILB Patrick Onwuasor, ILB Brennen Beyer, ILB Donald Payne, OLB Albert McClellan, OLB Boseko Lokombo, OLB Randy Allen.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Brandon Carr, RCB Jimmy Smith, SS Eric Weddle, FS Tony Jefferson. Backups - CB Marlon Humphrey, CB Maurice Canady, CB Brandon Boykin, CB Robertson Daniel, CB Al-Hajj Shabazz, CB Jaylen Hill, CB Sheldon Price, CB Tavon Young, DB Lardarius Webb, S Chuck Clark, S Daniel Henry, S Otha Foster.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox, KOR Chris Moore, Keenan Reynolds, PR Michael Campanaro.