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Young players could make the difference for the Ravens

FootballPro FootballBaltimore RavensJoe FlaccoLaQuan WilliamsCincinnati BengalsBrandon Williams (football, linebacker)

Veteran players like Haloti Ngata, Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco will do the heavy lifting, but a lot of first or second year players need to produce if the Ravens want to return to the postseason.

The Ravens have gradually rebuilt the team through the draft and now it's time for some of them to play.

On Saturday night against the Washington Redskins, the youngsters showed speed and promise, especially on defense. But they will need to have the same type of impact on offense as well.

Second-year right offensive tackle Rick Wagner has been solid in the preseason, but the intensity goes up a notch in the regular season. Second-year player Marlon Brown is the fourth receiver, but he could have a significant impact inside the opponents' 20-yard line because of his size and great hands.

Second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk has had an excellent offseason in the weight room and might be the most improved player on the team. Not only will he be the lead blocker on short yardage situations, but he can double as a tight end or H-back.

Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro has given the Ravens some insurance at the running back position especially with starter Ray Rice being suspended for the first two games and top replacement Bernard Pierce being injury prone.

"Every game and every practice is something for me," Taliaferro said. "I go in there with the same approach — if not a little different — and that is working harder. You have to progress every week. We just have to build, work on the little things at practice this week and go out there and get this win [at New Orleans]."

Defensively, the Ravens might have to count on five first or second-year players including starting nose guard Brandon Williams. Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks thought highly of Williams as a rookie last season and the former Missouri Southern State product played perhaps his best game against Washington Saturday night.

There is potential greatness in rookie tackle Timmy Jernigan. Because of his speed and quick hands, Jernigan will get playing time in the rotation and might become a rushing specialist.

"It's great,"Ngata said. "We're going to have a good rotation in there, and like I said, stay fresh throughout the season."

Rookie C.J. Mosley has shown outstanding speed at inside linebacker, but the Ravens need second year player Arthur Brown to become a factor. Daryl Smith, who also starts inside, has been in the league for 11 years and youngsters like Mosley often wear down near the end of the season.

Brown needs to give the Ravens quality minutes especially in coverage. The Ravens also have to get more out of second year strong safety Matt Elam. So far, he hasn't showed much of a presence and hasn't been worthy of being a first round pick.

If he improves, so will the Ravens defense. If they all get better, then general manager Ozzie Newsome's last two draft classes have panned out well.

Showing the blitz

To blitz or not to blitz?

Some coaches like to show a lot of those packages during the preseason and others are offended by the ones who do.

Washington brought constant pressure Saturday night and it was apparent that the Ravens weren't ready mentally or physically.

"When a defense is playing you like that, and their game plan, obviously, was to load the box, and playing Cover 1, you have to find a way to make a play, which we did at the end of the half, and we did in the second half with Tyrod [Taylor] and Deonte [Thompson]," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said.

"And that's really what you have to do," he said. "It's hard to run the ball against them, and we still expect to run the ball against that kind of a front. But, they were determined to stop the run and play us at man coverage."

The best thing is that the Ravens found a way to succeed and they can go back and watch the film to address how they will handle these situations in the future. You can bet that Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is going to have some creative stuff when his Bengals open against the Ravens on Sept. 7.

McAlister should be in Ring of Honor

The Ravens need to get Chris McAlister into the Ring of Honor. He is not just the best cornerback in team history, but was one of the best in the game throughout most of his 11-year career which ended in 2009.

For the 10 seasons McAlister played in Baltimore, he finished with 26 interceptions and had more than 40 tackles in eight of those years including 71 in 2001. He was a prototype who usually matched up with the other team's top receiver.

McAlister was a three time Pro Bowl selection, and a member of the Ravens' 2000-01 Super Bowl team.

There will be some who insist that McAlister doesn't belong in the Ring of Honor because of off-the-field issues, but at least two of the current members had criminal records.

And if character was a main issue, then there would be no Pro Football Hall of Fame. McAlister appears to have matured. McAlister worked as an intern with the Buffalo Bills and is now back at the University of Arizona working on his degree in education.

Flacco and Steve Smith connect

It was only a matter of time before Flacco and Steve Smith started hooking up. They had played well together in practices, but Flacco seemed more intent in learning the overall offense instead of just going to Smith in the previous two preseason games.

"It's fine. It's cool to see," said Smith of Flacco's demeanor. "I think, with all the success he's had, some of the things that he went through contract wise, I think he keeps an even keel. I make fun of him a lot. I've got his walk down pat, so it's been pretty fun to get to know him, and to continue to get to know him."

Not the end for LaQuan Williams

The Ravens waived LaQuan Williams. The third-year receiver out of Maryland always shows flashes but can't maintain consistency. But with two weeks left before the start of the regular season Williams has a good chance to be picked up by another team.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FootballPro FootballBaltimore RavensJoe FlaccoLaQuan WilliamsCincinnati BengalsBrandon Williams (football, linebacker)
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