By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
7:36 AM EDT, August 7, 2012
Nothing of true consequence has transpired yet at Ravens training camp, not even an actual preseason game -- the best litmus tests for who's worthy of inclusion on the roster.
That doesn't mean impressions aren't being formed, though, as the Ravens are one week away from the close of camp.
With that thought in mind, here's a cheat sheet on how the roster is shaping up by position with an eye toward performance:
Joe Flacco has had a sharp camp, decisively delivering spirals and getting the football out of his hands quickly. In negotiations with the Ravens for what figures to eventually be a blockbuster long-term deal that isn't imminent at this time, Flacco has displayed progress in accuracy, timing and aggressiveness. Most of his miscues seem to be born from practice experimentation against an opportunistic secondary.
Dual-threat backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor hasn't been challenged by Curtis Painter, who lost eight starts last season with the Indianapolis Colts when he stood in for an injured Peyton Manning. Taylor hasdazzled at times in reserve duty with his arm, and his feet, offering a different style than Flacco.
Painter is a pocket passer who has battled bouts of erratic play, and has thrown plenty of interceptions. He hasn't made a strong case so far for the Ravens to keep three quarterbacks during the regular season. The defending AFC North champions kept two quarterbacks on the roster last year, and three seems to be a luxury.
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is the Ravens' $40 million man, and their investment appears to be a sound one. He's his usual dynamic, all-purpose self.
Fullback Vonta Leach provides a punishing presence as Rice's personal bodyguard, a rare throwback lead blocker in a league where they have practically become extinct.
The backup running back situation remains a quandary.
Third-round rookie Bernard Pierce is the most suited for full-time duty if something ever happened to Rice. However, a hamstring injury has prevented the new father from getting on the field much. His grade is incomplete.
Anthony Allen has power, but hasn't demonstrated much in the way of moves.
Damien Berry is a slashing back who has put on some good bulk in the weight room and has had a solid camp overall.
Besides Rice, the most impressive back on the practice field has been diminutive undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey. Stocky and generously listed at 5-8, 212 pounds, the ultra-productive former Western Kentuckystandout rushed for more than 1,600 yards as a junior and a senior.
Rainey has impressed the coaches with his ability to catch the football out of the backfield and has a scooting, downhill style. He's not as much of a long shot as he was when he arrived in Owings Mills forcamp a few weeks ago.
Veteran Anquan Boldin has built better chemistry and timing with Flacco and returned a bit quicker and healthier than last season when he battled a partially torn meniscus in his knee that required arthroscopic surgery before the playoffs.
Torrey Smith is the deep threat of the offense, and the former second-round draft pick has gained polish as a route-runner. His hands have become more consistent.
Newcomer Jacoby Jones can create separation and has big-play capabilities. He still has lapses of concentration that lead to the occasional dropped pass, but not enough to cause serious alarm. He's thefavorite to be the third receiver.
LaQuan Williams has been one of the bright spots of camp, making several acrobatic catches and showing off body control and toughness.
Tandon Doss' hamstring injury, which sidelined him for a week until he returned Monday, has him in a position where he needs to make up ground. He's listed on the official depth chart as the backup to Boldin.
The Ravens kept six wide receivers on the active roster last season, including kick returner David Reed, who's still recovering from surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament and is unlikely to be ready in time for the season.
The Ravens like what they've seen from Devin Goda, a big, former Slippery Rock wide-out (6-2, 218 pounds), and speedster Deonte Thompson.
Thompson is one of the fastest players on the squad, but will need to prove that he can go over the middle and catch the ball regularly in games to claim a roster spot.
Tommy Streeter has been mastering the jump ball part of his job, but needs to develop a more extensive knowledge of the route tree and make sharper cuts out of his breaks.
Starter Ed Dickson has the potential to have a breakout year. Athletic with ideal size, Dickson's only drawback was a few maddening drops last year. He seems steadier and more confident this fall.
Dennis Pitta sustained a clean break of his right hand, which has been repaired through surgery. He's slated to return in time for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Pitta is one of Flacco's mosttrusted targets and closest friends.
The third tight end spot, a position intended for a blocking type, is being contested between Davon Drew and newcomer Billy Bajema. Bajema just got here, but has more of a track record in the NFL than Drew. Drew had a rough practice Saturday with drops, but knows the system.
Bryant McKinnie reported late with a sore lower back and about a dozen pounds heavier than his target weight. Five days after he showed up, the former Pro Bowl selection finally passed the conditioning test.
If McKinnie keeps shedding pounds -- and he says he's roughly 360 now after playing at 370 last season -- then he's the Ravens' best, most proven option at left tackle. The Ravens face a Murderer's Row of pass rushers this fall that includes DeMarcus Ware, Trent Cole, Tamba Hali, James Harrison, Brian Orakpo, Elvis Dumervil and Jason Pierre-Paul. McKinnie is under serious scrutiny, though, because of his weight issues. Off the field, he's facing financial issues.
Michael Oher's quickness and conditioning are rare for a tackle regardless of whether he lines up on the left or right side. He formed a strong tandem last year with Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda that's likely to be reprised.
Yanda is the Ravens' top blocker, a former Iowa farm boy with a nasty streak.
Rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele has stonewalled pass rushers and has a powerful hand punch. If the McKinnie situation goes south, then he represents the Ravens' insurance policy at right tackle thatwould allow Oher to shift to the left side.
The Ravens are encouraged about the progress of veteran left guard Bobbie Williams, who reported to camp 14 pounds lighter than minicamp. He's up there in years at nearly 36 years old, but still has a mauling blocking presence.
Rookie center Gino Gradkowski hasn't backed down against big defensive linemen and has learned the blocking schemes quickly. He's gotten a lot of snaps since six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk has missed a week with back spasms.
Birk, 36, hasn't missed a start since joining the Ravens, so not being on the field in camp doesn't send up a big red flag yet.
Jah Reid's untimely strained right calf injury has prevented him from making a bid for playing time after being projected by the Ravens as a potential starting guard during the offseason.
Gritty veteran Tony Wragge could figure in as a valuable swing player as an interior lineman.
Ramon Harewood's health continues to be unreliable, the book on him since being drafted in the sixth round out of Morehouse.
Justin Boren is highly regarded for his toughness, but is more of an in-line fighter than anything else, as he doesn't get to the second level often.
Undrafted tackle Jack Cornell is a technician, an uncommonly mature rookie chasing a roster spot who's done enough for general manager Ozzie Newsome to single him out to owner Steve Bisciotti.
This shapes up as a fairly deep group. That is, when everyone's healthy.
Pernell McPhee, the top pass rusher of the unit, is working his way back from a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in the spring.
Starting left defensive end Arthur Jones was having a nice camp until a strained hip flexor sat him down.
Massive nose guard Terrence Cody is a huge anchor in the middle of the defensive line. By upgrading his conditioning and dropping a significant amount of body fat since his rookie year, Cody has better energy to occupy blockers, push the pocket and occasionally shoot gaps.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is significantly heavier than he was a year ago when he played at roughly 335 pounds. He still moves uncannily well for a player with so much bulk. Ngata's desire to bulk up stemmed from wearing down last season, but he pulled his hamstring when he took the conditioning test for the first time.
Ngata is still playing his way into shape after returning to full-time duty Monday. The Ravens are looking for a major return on their $61 million investment in Ngata, one of the most disruptive interior forces inthe game.
It's very competitive for reps among Ryan McBean, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall. McBean could give the front seven a lift when he returns from a pending three-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy.
Kemoeatu is trying to revive a career nearly derailed by injuries and weight issues.
Hall is an improving young player.
Imposing rookie nose guard Ishmaa'ily Kitchen (6-1, 332 pounds) is a name worth remembering.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is trying to defy his age and remain a three-down player by losing a lot of weight this offseason. He's not much bigger than strong safety Bernard Pollard, but he does look quick. Listed at 240 pounds, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year appears closer to 230pounds.
Lewis is following a trend of older linebackers who kept getting lighter in the twilight of their
careers, including former Pittsburgh Steelers middle linebacker James Farrior. The true test will come against bigger backs in the regular season. For now, Lewis' experiment of preserving his status as a full-time player appears to be working for him.
Paul Kruger has been interchangeable between rush outside linebacker -- injured NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs' old spot -- and strongside linebacker. Kruger's best spot is rush and he looks more comfortable than he did a year ago as a situational pass rusher. He's had to play strongside or Sam linebacker, where he's listed first on the depth chart, since rookie Courtney Upshaw has been out for the past week with a sprained right shoulder initially characterized as a bruise.
Upshaw reported at roughly 280 pounds and didn't pass the conditioning test on his first try. He's starting to drop some weight and is headed in the right direction of his goal of 270 pounds, but isn't there yet.
The Ravens need to get the former Alabama All-American on the field to gauge what they really have at outside linebacker.
Jameel McClain returns as the starting inside linebacker opposite Lewis, and retaining him on a three-year, $10.5 million contract is looking like a wise move.
Top reserve inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has a nagging hamstring injury that has complicated his outlook considering he's making $1.927 million.
Outside linebacker Sergio Kindle's comeback bid continues as he's had his best camp since suffering a fractured skull prior to his rookie season. He suffered permanent hearing damage in that fall, but has regained his equilibrium and his confidence.
Kindle still needs to learn how to redirect his charge when he runs into trouble from blockers, and his spin move hasn't been effective against Osemele.
Albert McClellan is a valuable special-teams contributor who doubles as a steady linebacker.
Ricky Brown and Chavis Williams have been solid.
Undrafted rookie Nigel Carr is a big hitter who needs to refine other parts of his game.
This is arguably the most talented part of the roster.
The Ravens are set at cornerback with $50 million shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb, and are trying to decide between incumbent Cary Williams and former first-rounder Jimmy Smith opposite Webb.
Williams has had a better camp than Smith, who has battled leg and back ailments and has been beaten more often than the other corners. Williams has recovered from offseason surgery on his right hip to repair a torn labrum that he first hurt against the Seattle Seahawks last season.
Smith has prototypical size and speed. However, he still needs to improve his ability to diagnose plays and make plays on the ball.
Pro Bowl special-teams ace Corey Graham has had an eye-opening camp and has proven he deserves the playing time on defense that eluded him with the Chicago Bears.
After a rocky offseason where he contemplated retirement and dropped hints that he might hold out, Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed showed up on time and seems to be a rejuvenated man at camp.
Bernard Pollard is an intimidating hitter at strong safety.
Behind starting safeties Reed and Pollard, Sean Considine and rookie Christian Thompson have stood out more than Emanuel Cook.
Fifth-round cornerback Asa Jackson, a former Cal-Poly All-American, has reacted quickly to passing plays. He's pushing returning corners Danny Gorrer and Chykie Brown.
It's been an interesting battle between former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff and undrafted rookie Justin Tucker.
Tucker is creating a viable challenge. The former University of Texas kicker has only missed three field goals during camp, connecting on 55 of 58 attempts since camp started.
Tucker made all seven attempts Saturday, including a 62-yarder. Cundiff hit 7 of 8 tries, narrowly coming up short from 65 yards. He has made 51 of 59 attempts in two weeks of camp.
Cundiff is under scrutiny due to his flubbed chip shot in the AFC title game that could have sent the game into overtime.
So far, he's done fine even though Tucker has a stronger leg and is less expensive. At this point, barring preseason game struggles, Cundiff is expected to retain his job.
The Ravens will place considerably more weight on preseason performances than how Cundiffand Tucker kick in practice.
Jones is penciled in as the starting punt returner and kick returner.
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