By Jeff Zrebiec
9:18 AM EDT, August 17, 2012
Rookies Courtney Upshaw and Bernard Pierce, and veterans like Matt Birk and Ray Lewis are all expected to make their 2012 preseason debuts tonight against the Detroit Lions. But the guy who may be under the microscope the most -- assuming he plays -- is Jimmy Smith. The second-year cornerback appeared to have his back lock up on him late in Wednesday’s practice, forcing him to exit. He missed last week’s preseason opener, and four or five days of practice time, with back spasms. Earlier in camp, he exited one practice after straining his shoulder, and another after cramping up. Smith, a first-round pick last year, came to camp in great shape and looking extremely motivated to push Cary Williams for his starting cornerback job. He spent a lot of time in the offseason at the Ravens’ facility and in the weight room, and team officials raved about his work ethic and commitment. So it has to be disappointing that the injuries have cropped up in training camp, especially after he essentially missed four games last season with a high ankle sprain. Whether he starts or not, the Ravens are going to need him on the field with all of the top quarterbacks and pass-happy teams that they play.
The sight of veteran Ma’ake Kemoeatu working with the first team at nose tackle, instead of last year’s starter Terrence Cody, attracted plenty of attention this week. In an interview with my colleague Edward Lee, Cody acknowledged that he’s in competition with Kemoeatu at nose tackle, but he also said that part of the reason for him being on the second team was he was learning to play Haloti Ngata’s defensive tackle position. Like every team, the Ravens crave versatility and are always planning for what Orioles manager Buck Showalter calls “what if?” scenarios so the move makes plenty of sense. But it certainly would be interesting to see a front-line of Ngata at defensive end, Cody at defensive tackle and Kemoeatu at nose tackle in obviously run situations. That’s over 1,000 pounds of beef right there.
Five guys who stood out to me after second week of camp: 1. WR Anquan Boldin -- The veteran had a pretty nice week which included blowing past Jimmy Smith down the sideline and hauling in a Joe Flacco bomb. The questions about his speed will persist, but he looks healthy and motivated; 2. CB Lardarius Webb -- The Ravens’ top corner, Webb was around the ball all week and made several interceptions. It will be interesting to see him match up with Calvin Johnson tonight; 3. WR LaQuan Williams -- Nothing about the former Terp wows you on a regular basis, but if there was somebody keeping track of the number of catches players have made in training camp, I’d be shocked if Williams doesn’t lead by a sizable margin. He’s gotten in the end zone with some frequency, too; 4. DT Bryan Hall -- It’s hard to ignore Hall, who is constantly talking or joking around with teammates, but he got plenty of notice this week for his play. On the practice squad last season, Hall has had an active training camp in his bid to make the team; 5. OT Michael Oher -- I don’t know that Oher was any more impressive this week than he has been the previous two, but I thought he deserved to be included, simply because he’s been solid throughout camp. He hasn’t missed a practice and he hasn’t griped at all about getting moved around from right tackle to left, and possibly back to right tackle again. He may not be the dominant tackle that Ravens fans had hoped for when he was drafted, but he’s a real solid performer.
Five quick observations: 1. I’ll be interested to watch rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw tonight assuming he plays. Watching him in practice this week, he still looks like he’s hindered with the sore shoulder. He didn’t look as fast, powerful or assertive as he did during the mini-camps; 2. I’ve heard some pundits wonder whether wide receiver Torrey Smith could be a candidate for a sophomore slump. That would surprise me. The guy wants to be a great receiver and he won’t be outworked. Remember, he played most of last season with a double hernia, and he still finished with good numbers; 3. Tonight is a huge game for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. It’s been a quiet camp for him overall and he could use to stay on the field and make a couple of plays; 4. One of the themes this week in practice was dropped passes. The ball didn’t hit the ground much at all for the first couple of weeks of training camp, but that changed this week in a big way; 5. Poor Jah Reid. Expected to compete for a starting job, the second-year tackle misses the first couple of weeks of training camp with a right calf injury. He returns to practice this week and he finds himself under siege by Bernard Pollard and several other Ravens’ defensive backs in Wednesday’s practice scrum. Pollard, by the way, would be one of the last guys you’d want to tangle with on the Ravens.
There are really no new updates in two storylines that have hovered over training camp: Terrell Suggs’ comeback from the torn Achilles, and Joe Flacco’s contract negotiations. Suggs hasn’t spoken to the media since the Ravens’ mandatory veteran minicamp in mid-June. However, he continues to rehab and both he and Ravens coach John Harbaugh still believe that the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year will play at some point this season, likely toward the second half. Nothing with that has changed. As for the Flacco negotiations, all indications point toward a stalemate between both sides right now. However, my gut feeling -- and I repeat, this is my feeling, not based on what sources are saying -- is there still is a decent chance that a long-term extension gets done before the Sept. 10 season opener. The two sides are close enough, where a little compromise on both ends, could complete the deal. Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, has said several times over the last month that a deal could happen in “two hours or two years from now.” Agent speak for sure, but the point remains that enough leg work has been put into this where if both sides are fully committed to getting it done before the season begins, it will get done.
And finally to answer another question that we get a lot, the Ravens will have to cut down their active roster from 90 to 75 by 4 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 27. Final cuts to get down to 53 then have to be made by Friday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m.
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