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At start of OTAs, who's there is far more important than who isn't

Who is there, or more appropriately, who isn’t? That undoubtedly will be the most popular question this week as the Ravens start the first of three sessions of organized team activities. The sessions will run from May 21 to 23, May 29 to 31 and June 4 to 6, leading into the mandatory veteran minicamp, which starts on June 11.

During the OTAs, players don their helmets and jerseys, but they don’t wear all their pads. There is blocking, but no full-on tackling. And above all, the sessions are voluntary. Players can’t be punished for not showing up, and some players figure to do just that, opting instead to work out at home and wait for the mandatory minicamp before making their appearance at the Under Armour Performance Center.

Several of the Ravens’ veterans did not attend last year’s OTAs and things obviously worked out just fine in the long run. I’m not dismissing the importance of the workouts, especially not this year when the Ravens have so many new faces on defense and the defensive leadership has been passed from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. Having some of the most well-respected veterans around is a great way to show the team's newer players how this organization does things.

What better way for rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk to learn than to shadow Vonta Leach, one of the game's best at that position? Tight end Matt Furstenburg would certainly benefit from any time spent around Dennis Pitta or Ed Dickson.

But the reality is the OTAs are more important for the younger players to get more repetitions and gain more familiarity with the coaching staff. Coaches know what Suggs can do, but they need to continue to evaluate rookie John Simon and see if there are potential roles for Michael McAdoo and Adrian Hamilton.

It will be an important time for young wide receivers like Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson and Tommy Streeter to get more work in with quarterback Joe Flacco and prove that they are worthy of significant roles on offense. It will be an important time for rookies Matt Elam, Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams to continue to grasp the Ravens’ defensive philosophies and get acclimated with some of their veteran teammates. It will be an important time for other young players seeking bigger roles, guys like Josh Bynes, Chykie Brown and David Reed.

No position battles will be won over the next three weeks. There will be no spirited one-on-one duels between wide receivers and cornerbacks or brawl-inducing hits. Any commentary on who stood out will have to include a primer that reporters are permitted to watch one of the three weekly two-hour sessions and OTAs aren’t like training camp practices. The intensity is entirely different, as is what teams are allowed to do during the sessions.

But I’m sure coach John Harbaugh is looking forward to having as many players as possible back on the practice field. Several members of last year’s team have already tweeted about being in Baltimore for the OTAs. That group includes Courtney Upshaw, Bryant McKinnie and Torrey Smith, who is a fixture at the team facility in the offseason.

“First day of OTAs!! Finally get to play football a little...running drills was getting old,” Smith said this morning on his Twitter account.

Flacco and running back Ray Rice said earlier this offseason that they expected to take part in the team workouts, now that both players have their contract extensions behind them.

Still, the list of players who are present will almost certainly be overshadowed by those who aren’t, even if last year proved that OTA attendance doesn’t mean a whole lot to certain players. And it is voluntary, after all.

However, with the start of training camp still two months away, this week represents another important step to take before the Ravens officially begin defense of their title.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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