1. The Ravens should find out if Marc Bulger is willing to un-retire for $3 million. But if he's not interested, they shouldn't panic. In fact, they might be better off not making a move at all this week.
A lot of people are going to assume that Tyrod Taylor's injury means the Ravens absolutely need to sign a veteran quarterback this week, because there is simply no way they can go into the season opener against the Steelers with Hunter Cantwell as the back-up to Joe Flacco. I'm not sure I agree. At least for the moment.
Cantwell certainly didn't play particularly great after he was thrown into action against the Falcons, but at this point, who would the Ravens be able to bring in besides Bulger who would be able to grasp their offense to in 10 days? Troy Smith? My colleague Jamison Hensley pointed out on Twitter Thursday night that the sense when Bulger retired was that he doesn't need the money, so it might be a tough sell. Dangling a little extra money his way, however, couldn't hurt. He's a much better option than what's out there on the market.
If Flacco gets hurt against the Steelers, the Ravens are going to have almost no shot at winning anyway, which is why they shouldn't waste their money on signing Jake Delhomme or a draft pick in a trade. (As important as it is, it's just one game in a long season.) Playing Sage Rosenfels, Todd Bauman, David Carr or even Derek Anderson (should any of them get cut) with only six days of prep time isn't going to give you any major advantage over asking Cantwell to hand off 20 times in the second half. At least Cantwell knows your system at the moment. And to be honest, he would probably look better playing with the starters than he looked on Thursday.
If Taylor is hurt, the Ravens might as well roll the dice in week one, limit the number of times Flacco throws the ball, and try to win with defense and a few big plays while they search for a back-up who could actually help them this year instead of just a retread. I doubt they'll go this route, but I think they should consider it. If Taylor's injury is a lingering thing, then eventually you find the right veteran to play if necessary. But it's not worth all the angst it's receiving at the moment.
It's really a shame that Taylor bruised his shoulder against the Falcons, because I do think he was one good showing away from truly back-up job outright. He's never going to be Michael Vick -- those comparisons are just absurd; he has neither the lateral quickness nor the arm strength -- but he does have the ability to make plays he appears to be a hard worker, a smart player and a fast learner. Hopefully his injury is minor, and he'll be ready to contribute in a few weeks.
2. This team feels like it's going to be faster and hungrier in 2011 than it was in 2010.
Occasionally, when you look in the media for a national perspective on the Ravens, you'll see writers or commentators refer to Baltimore's defense as "aging." That's an easy giveaway that the national media person isn't really paying close attention to the Ravens roster, they're just making a broad. bland statement based on what they remember about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Are Lewis and Reed getting old? Absolutely. But is the Ravens defense, as a whole, getting old? Not at all. Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh wanted to get younger and more athletic this year, and despite an uneven preseason, I think they've done that. When you look at Paul Kruger finally figuring things out, or Jimmy Smith deflecting balls, or Pernell McPhee bull-rushing the quarterback, or Terrence Cody taking on two blockers or Arthur Jones collapsing the pocket, you get a entirely new perspective. Under Chuck Pagano, this team is going to be aggressive and it's going to bring a lot of pressure in waves. Right now, McPhee looks like a draft-day steal.
If Terrell Suggs picks up where he left off at the end of last year, and the Ravens can get pressure opposite him with a combination of Kruger and Sergio Kindle, they're going to fluster a lot of good teams.
3. Laquan Williams deserves a spot on this squad. And so does Anthony Allen.
Speaking of youth and speed, both Williams and Allen have looked pretty impressive this presesaon. It's pretty rare that a team would keep a 7th round draft pick and an undrafted free agent on their squad, especially when you consider how little time they had to impress the coaches after the lockout ended, but I would be surprised if both didn't make the team. They've simply outplayed the other players at their position.
Williams is really a great story. I spoke with him prior to the lockout ending, before he signed with the Ravens, for a feature I was writing about undrafted free agents, and he was so darn hungry to get a chance to prove himself. He came to the University of Maryland as a highly-rated prep prospect at of Baltimore, but for whatever reason, he never really made it out of the doghouse after he broke his ankle freshman year. He tried out for the
USFL UFL, but was cut without much of a look because the league said they were looking for more "established" guys. He got a job at Sherwin Williams working the cash register, just to pay some bills. He was constantly stressed out, and thought several times about just giving up his football dreams.
Now he's on the verge of making his home town team. I know some fans were fired up when Harbaugh said last week that Williams still had areas where he needed to improve and that he hadn't made the squad just yet, but I think some of that was a motivational tool. Williams even made a nice tackle on special teams against the Falcons, as if to prove he was listening. If the Ravens try to sneak Williams on the practice squad, some team is going to see the way he returned punts and snatch him up. It's still unclear who the Ravens third receiver is going to be this year. Probably a combination of David Reed, Smith and Tandon Doss, but if you give him more time, Williams might just force the Ravens go give him a real look before the season is over. Some guys are just late bloomers.
Allen just seems quicker and bigger than Jalen Parmale. The Ravens already know what Parmale has to offer. He's a good kick return and a decent blocker, but it's unlikely he'll ever be a feature back in the NFL. When Allen received just one carry against the Falcons, it felt the Ravens were telling Parmale, "Here is your last chance. Prove we should keep you, because we're leaning the other way right now."
4. Even though the Ravens lost a starter when strong safety Dawan Landry signed with Jacksonville, I'm going to predict they'll be better this year at that position with a combination of Bernard Pollard, Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski.
Regular readers of this column will likely recall that I was never a fan of Landry, a decent run stuffer who was often completely lost in pass coverage. Landry was around the ball a lot, but he missed as many big plays as he made. I already feel like, watching Pollard, that the Ravens have upgraded that position. Pollard may be old [KVV note: Actually, as several people have pointed out, he's 26; Proof you should not write at 3 a.m.], but he hits like a train running downhill, and he's very good as disguising blitz pressure. I'm going to predict he'll be one of Chuck Pagano's best weapons by the end of the season. Even if he's not great in coverage, I still can't imagine he'll be as bad as Landry was.
Fans often obsess over who the "starter" is going to be, but I actually liked Pagano's answer when asked about the strong safety position. Being the starter doesn't matter much because he plans to use so many different packages. That's why you'll see a little of Pollard, a little of Zibby, and a little of Nakamura. He'll try to play to each of their strengths.
5. There may not be a spot on the team for Josh Bynes, but he's a pretty good ballplayer.
Last preseason, i was one of Jason Phillips biggest advocates, arguing that he should make the team based on his special teams skills. And Phillips made a handful of nice plays against the Falcons, although he was the main player responsible for Atlanta's long touchdown run when he got caught inside instead of flowing down the line of scrimmage. After watching Bynes play, however, I might considering keeping him over Phillips as a special teams player who had the potential to blossom down the road.
Bynes may have been making plays against other fourth-stringers, but he clearly has good football instincts. He know where the ball is going, and he delivers big hits when he gets there. Just watching him, I feel like he has a better feel for playing in space than either Jameel McClain and Tavares Gooden, and they have several years of experience. The knock on Bynes coming out of college was that he wasn't great in pass coverage and that he didn't change directions very well, but I'd definitely like to see him on the practice squad and see if the Ravens couldn't mold him into something down the road. He was effective blitzing the quarterback and played well in space Thursday night. There might be a future for him in this league as a starter. As good as Phillips can look at times, I'm not sure he'll ever be more than a special teams guy.