The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Jason Butt, who covers the Ravens for Baltimore Beat Down.
MV: Give me three players who have impressed you the most during training camp.
JB: Without citing the obvious ones, the three that have stood out are Deonte Thompson, Chykie Brown and Brandon Williams. Thompson has looked like a No. 2 at times, able to catch the deep ball as well as break off routes underneath. Baltimore's top three corners are a tough group, but Brown has shown he's a quality backup that can step in if needed. He's a strong corner that jams receivers off their routes and has done a good job of that so far. Williams looks every bit like the nose tackle of Baltimore's future. He's quick off the snap and possesses a lot of power. He'll certainly be a factor in the defensive line's rotation this season.
MV: Are there any notable players whom you feel have been underwhelming so far?
JB: Terrence Cody needs a strong preseason to prove he still belongs in Baltimore's rotation. Perhaps the hip injury is still bothering him some as he's yet to show any improvement from how the 2012 season played out. Cody had a solid 2011 campaign but regressed a year ago, despite spending a lot of time working out during last year's offseason. The offseason surgery has only stunted his development. Another, to a much lesser extent, is rookie lineman Ricky Wagner. He'll have time to develop in Baltimore's system but has been a little slow off the snap. He has a lot of upside but will need to continue to fine tune his game for the NFL level.
MV: How big of a loss is Dennis Pitta, and how will that injury change their offense?
JB: It's a huge loss, no matter how anyone spins it. Pitta's presence in the middle keeps safeties honest and frees up the wideouts down the field. Having Pitta and Ed Dickson in the game at the same time creates mismatches against smaller nickel corners and slower linebackers. Without Pitta, the offense is now without two of Joe Flacco's preferred targets from 2012 (the other being Anquan Boldin). It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Ravens compensate by running Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce more than they did a year ago. Then again, Flacco, and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, enjoy the freedom the up-tempo style of offense provides. There's still some time to figure out what kind of identity this Ravens team will become by Sept. 5.
MV: What are your thoughts on the return of Vonta Leach? And do you think that is an acknowledgement that rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk isn't ready to be a lead blocker in the NFL?
JB: The Ravens needed Leach to ensure they'll still be able to run the ball in the AFC North. Juszczyk is a versatile fullback/H-back but needs time working on the fundamentals of lead blocking. He's had a hard time setting a base and holding his own ground against Baltimore's first-team defense. It's something that will come with time, though it's apparent he's not ready yet. Bringing Leach in solves that problem and allows the Ravens to add a wrinkle in their offense with Juszczyk. Often times a year ago, the Ravens would line Pitta up in the backfield in a shotgun formation with two backs. Based on his skill set, the Ravens could utilize Juszczyk in that role now that Pitta is out for the season.
MV: How productive do you think Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can be?
JB: Suggs has by far looked the best of any defender in practice. He looks quicker than he did after returning from his Achilles injury and has been playing with a lot of energy. Suggs has been able to beat both Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie frequently. In addition, Dumervil is living up to his reputation as he transitions from a defensive end to outside linebacker. The two will be aided tremendously by what looks to be one of the best defensive line rotations in the NFL. Haloti Ngata should see a little less attention now that Chris Canty's in the mix, and Arthur Jones has looked explosive at times. It all starts with the defensive front, and as long as the front is occupying blockers and generating a push, Suggs and Dumervil should have opportunities to flourish.
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