Ravens 2017 training camp primer: a position-by-position breakdown

Roster questions will be answered over the next six weeks as position battles are sorted out. Injuries will inevitably occur. A few veterans will be phased out and an unknown undrafted rookie or two will emerge as a potential key piece.

The period players affectionately call “the grind” begins Thursday when the Ravens will be on the field for the first full-squad practice of training camp. The Ravens’ first preseason game is Aug. 10 against the Washington Redskins and the 53-man roster must be set by Sept. 2.

In between, established veterans will get ample opportunity to get in game shape and become acquainted with new teammates. Rookies will have chances to open the eyes of the coaching staff. For every roster certainty, there has been an undrafted free agent like Zachary Orr or Michael Pierce who has made the team after being given virtually no chance by outsiders at the start of camp.

Trying to get back to the playoffs after a two-season hiatus, the Ravens have an unsettled offensive line and a banged-up tight end group. They are deep at outside linebacker but relatively thin on the inside. Their secondary will have a decidedly different look.

Several factors, including injuries, potential late-summer additions, the unpredictability of player performance and the importance the Ravens place on special teams in deciding the last couple of spots make it difficult to project the team’s 53-man roster heading into the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at the Cincinnati Bengals.

With Ravens training camp set to begin later this week, The Baltimore Sun takes a position-by-position look at the roster locks and long shots, along with players on the bubble.

QUARTERBACKS

How many they’ll likely keep: 2

Locks if healthy: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett

Long shots: Dustin Vaughan

Skinny: As usual, there’s no drama here. The Ravens haven’t kept three quarterbacks on their regular-season opening roster since 2009. If they didn’t in 2016 with Flacco coming off knee surgery and Josh Johnson starring in the preseason, they won’t this year. Vaughan, added to the team’s practice squad late last year, is viewed more as a camp arm than a significant challenger to Mallett’s backup job.

RUNNING BACKS

How many they’ll likely keep: 4

Locks if healthy: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead

On the bubble: Buck Allen, Taquan Mizzell, Lorenzo Taliaferro (fullback), Ricky Ortiz (fullback)

Reserve/suspended list: Kenneth Dixon (four games)

Skinny: Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have traditionally kept three tailbacks and a fullback. If they stick to that plan, Allen will compete with Mizzell for one spot with Taliaferro and Ortiz trying to win the fullback job. However, the Ravens could gain some roster flexibility by using Taliaferro both at fullback and as the No.3 tailback, similar to Le’Ron McClain’s old role. That could get them through until Dixon returns from suspension. In either circumstance, Allen needs a strong summer to earn a spot.

WIDE RECEIVERS

How many they’ll likely keep: 6

Locks if healthy: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore

On the bubble: Kenny Bell, Michael Campanaro, Griff Whalen, Chris Matthews, Keenan Reynolds

Long shots: Quincy Adeboyejo, C.J. Board, Tim Patrick, Tim White

Skinny: There are probably one or two open spots if you’re operating under the assumption that Moore, a young player team officials have talked up, is a lock. Campanaro was a clear favorite for one of them, but he’s now expected to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining an offseason toe injury. If he misses extended time, that would open the door further for a number of young receivers, including a more confident Reynolds. Matthews has size and experience, but Bell stood out in offseason practices. Adeboyejo and White head the team’s four-man undrafted free-agent wide receiver class.

TIGHT ENDS

How many they’ll likely keep: 3

Locks if healthy: Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore, Benjamin Watson

On the bubble: Ryan Malleck, Vince Mayle, Maxx Williams

Reserve/suspended list: Darren Waller (one year)

Skinny: This is one of the hardest positions to forecast because it’s unclear who will be healthy. Gillmore has dealt with myriad injuries, including a recent hamstring problem. It’s believed Watson will be ready, but he’s 36 and coming off Achilles surgery. Williams is recovering from knee surgery and Harbaugh was noncommittal about his availability for camp. He could be a candidate to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. The Ravens need two of the three to be ready for the regular season.

OFFENSIVE LINE

How many they’ll likely keep: 9

Locks if healthy: Ronnie Stanley (tackle), Alex Lewis (guard/tackle), John Urschel (center/guard), Marshal Yanda (guard), James Hurst (tackle), Jermaine Eluemunor (guard/tackle), Nico Siragusa (guard)

On the bubble: Ryan Jensen (center/guard), Stephane Nembot (tackle), Matt Skura (center), De’Ondre Wesley (tackle)

Long shots: Jarell Broxton (guard), Roubbens Joseph (tackle), Brandon Kublanow (center), Jarrod Pughsley (guard), Maurquice Shakir (guard)

Skinny: The outlook will be further clouded if the Ravens sign a veteran center or tackle. As things stand, Stanley, Lewis, Yanda and Hurst appear entrenched as the starters with Urschel and Jensen battling for the center job. The loser of that competition, along with rookies Eluemunor and Siragusa, will be favorites for three of potentially four reserve roles. Nembot and Wesley are developmental tackles the Ravens like, and they’ll try to keep one or both.

DEFENSIVE LINE

How many they’ll likely keep: 7

Locks if healthy: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley

On the bubble: Brent Urban, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard

Skinny: The Ravens only have eight defensive linemen on their roster, a low number given the team’s preference for maintaining a deep rotation up front. Still, they have plenty of youth, talent and versatility here. The five-technique defensive end position is the spot to watch with Urban, Kaufusi and Wormley bidding for the starting role. Ricard, an undrafted free agent out of Maine, is a physical, high-energy player that the coaches like. The Ravens need Davis and Henry to emerge as productive players.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

How many they’ll likely keep: 5

Locks if healthy: Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams

On the bubble: Za’Darius Smith

Long shots: Randy Allen, Boseko Lokombo

Skinny: Could Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2015 who had 5½ sacks as a rookie but did little last year, be the odd man out? Suggs and Williams are the top two on the depth chart at rush linebacker and Judon and Bowser occupy those spots on the strong side. The Ravens will always find a spot for a talented pass rusher and Smith can move around, too, but he needs a strong preseason to solidify his role. Albert McClellan started 11 games last year, so he could factor on the outside as well.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

How many they’ll likely keep: 4

Locks if healthy: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan, Patrick Onwuasor

On the bubble: Brennen Beyer

Long shots: Bam Bradley, Lamar Louis, Donald Payne

Skinny: This is one spot where the Ravens can ill afford an injury. Correa, a second-round draft pick last year, is the clear leader to start alongside Mosley in the weak-side linebacker spot that opened with Orr’s retirement. McClellan and Onwuasor are the likely backups and two of the team’s best special teams players. The Ravens seem to always find an undrafted rookie inside linebacker that sticks and contributes, so it would be foolish to dismiss the chances of Bradley or Payne.

CORNERBACKS

How many they’ll likely keep: 5

Locks if healthy: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Maurice Canady

On the bubble: Brandon Boykin, Sheldon Price

Long shots: Robertson Daniel, Jaylen Hill, Reggie Porter, Al-Hajj Shabazz

Injured reserve: Tavon Young (torn ACL in OTAs)

Skinny: Young’s likely season-ending knee injury opened a spot and led to the late signings of Boykin and Shabazz. Canady is the front runner for the slot role after a strong performance in offseason practices. Boykin, who graded out as one of the league’s better slot corners a few years ago, has a good chance to stick as well. Price and Daniel both look the part and will press for spots. Ideally, the Ravens would keep more than five corners, but safety Lardarius Webb’s experience in coverage gives them that luxury.

SAFETIES

How many they’ll likely keep: 5

Locks if healthy: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine Sr.

On the bubble: Chuck Clark

Long shots: Otha Foster

Skinny: Assuming the Ravens get out of training camp healthy at this position, the only real question will be whether they can find a spot for Clark, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech. Ultimately, Clark will have to make the roster on special teams. The Ravens believe that their top three of Weddle, Jefferson and Webb constitute one of best safeties groups in the NFL. Levine, a special teams captain, can contribute in multiple areas and that gives the Ravens some flexibility.

SPECIALISTS

How many they’ll likely keep: 3

Locks if healthy: Justin Tucker (kicker), Sam Koch (punter), Morgan Cox (long snapper)

Long shots: Kenny Allen

Skinny: This marks the sixth straight season where the Ravens figure to have the same kicking unit. The group of Tucker, Koch and Cox make up arguably the top kicking battery in the league. Allen, an undrafted rookie out of Michigan, can kick and punt. He’s essentially an extra camp leg to give Koch and Tucker the occasional break. As kicker Wil Lutz proved last year, a strong showing in the preseason and the recommendation of Ravens’ coaches can lead to opportunities elsewhere for Allen.

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