By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
8:17 AM EST, February 4, 2014
While the Ravens’ brass will undoubtedly reiterate its intention to draft the “best-player available” countless times before May’s draft, it is already widely assumed that the team will use its first pick to either augment the offensive line or add another pass-catching weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco. It would be hard to quibble with either choice but watching the Seattle Seahawks’ dismantling of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII was further affirmation on the effect a rangy, physical and play-making safety can have on a game. The Seahawks have two of them in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and I thought it was Chancellor who set the tone in the Super Bowl and would have gotten my game MVP vote. Thomas and Chancellor are probably the best pair of safeties in the game so it’s an unfair comparison. However, I couldn’t help but watch them and be reminded of how much the Ravens needed a similar presence this year. The disappearance of their pass rush played a role in the increase in big plays allowed and decrease in turnovers forced, but so did the absence of someone on the back end who would cause quarterbacks and wide receivers to think twice about using the middle of the field. I’d expect Matt Elam to make a much bigger impact with his expected move to his more natural strong safety position but the Ravens need to find another active and athletic safety with good balls skills. With two quality cornerbacks in Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, that’s the missing piece in the secondary.
While we’re still a couple of weeks from the NFL Scouting Combine and draft status can change on a daily basis, the two safeties currently projected as first-round picks are Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor. Of course, the Ravens drafting a safety in the first round for a second consecutive year is probably improbable at best. But with a certain general manager’s connections to Alabama, I’m sure the Ravens know all about Clinton-Dix.
Of all the things said or written in the wake of Gary Kubiak’s hiring as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, the one that I found most ridiculous is that Kubiak was brought in as a potential heir apparent to head coach John Harbaugh. Sure, Kubiak will likely get a chance to be a head coach again but to think that opportunity will eventually come as the replacement to Harbaugh completely defies logic. For one, Harbaugh’s job is not in jeopardy in any way, shape or form. Two, if Kubiak gets Flacco and the Ravens’ offense to play well, the team most likely will be winning, meaning Harbaugh isn’t going anywhere. And three, Kubiak won’t be on Harbaugh’s staff for long if he engineers a Ravens’ offensive turnaround. He’ll be a top candidate for any of the head coaching jobs that will open up after the 2014 season.
Speaking of Harbaugh’s staff, it still is pretty jarring that of the Ravens’ primary five offensive coaches in Super Bowl XLVII a year ago, none of them remain with the organization. That group includes former offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, offensive line coach Andy Moeller and tight ends coach Wade Harman. Of the nine offensive coaches listed on the game card for Super Bowl XLVII, the only three that are still with the Ravens are Juan Castillo, who was hired as a consultant during the playoffs, and position coach assistants Craig Ver Steeg and Todd Washington.
Harbaugh’s current staff includes three former or current NFL head coaches (Harbaugh, Kubiak and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo), two former or current NFL offensive coordinators (Kubiak and Rick Dennison) and four former or current NFL defensive coordinators (Dean Pees, Don Martindale, Spagnuolo and Castillo).
Really looking forward to seeing how Kubiak and Dennison utilize second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk who had no role in the offense this past season. I’m not the first person to mention this by any stretch but it’s easy to envision Juszczyk being used in a similar way than how the Texans used James Casey. Casey, who has since moved onto the Philadelphia Eagles, was used at times in a hybrid H-back role lining up in different places and taking advantage of his skill set. He caught 34 balls and three touchdowns for the Texans in 2012 It would be quite a jump for Juszczyk to go from zero catches to 34 but it’s not unreasonable to expect the former fourth-round pick to be part of the game plan in 2014.
Ravens wide receiver Aaron Mellette said on his Twitter account yesterday that he had been cleared by doctors to run, calling it the “best news” that he’s heard in awhile. Mellette, a seventh-round draft pick last year, had surgery to repair cartilage damage in his knee and spent the season on injured reserve. As a result, Mellette has sort of become a forgotten man in the Ravens’ wide receiver picture. But Mellette did show some promise in the preseason, catching nine balls for 140 yards and two touchdowns. With Jacoby Jones potentially leaving in free agency, Tandon Doss no lock to get rendered a contract as a restricted free agent and Deonte Thompson having fallen down the depth chart, Mellette could really factor into the team’s plans. And it’s imperative that he’s healthy enough to fully take part in all the offseason workouts and team activities.
I would have loved to have been a fly in the wall wherever Ravens’ strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil watched the Super Bowl. While Dumervil maintains some close friendships with Broncos’ players and staff members, I’d imagine that he had to be pretty conflicted as he got ready to watch the big game. Given his breakup with the Broncos which included a pay cut request and the whole fax machine snafu, you’d have to think that the only thing more painful than his new team not making the playoffs would be watching his former one winning the Super Bowl.
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