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Baltimore Ravens

Injuries, trade spur numerous questions for Ravens

When the Ravens return to work early this week, they'll be forced to adapt to changes at the wide receiver position.

Michael Campanaro, who seemed to be on his way to earning a more prominent role on offense, is now done for the season, placed on injured reserve with a back injury. Steve Smith Sr., the team's leading receiver, is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns and possibly multiple weeks with microfractures in his back. Speedster Chris Givens was acquired Saturday from the St. Louis Rams for a 2018 seventh-round NFL draft pick.

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The developments spur numerous questions for the Ravens, who are 1-3 and looking to get back in the thick of things in a wide-open AFC.

What do the changes mean for quarterback Joe Flacco?

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That he will need to carry the offense. Smith was the team's top playmaker and the only real accomplished receiver that the Ravens have.

Obviously, the Ravens are going to need their run game to perform as it did in the victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Obviously, they are going to need Kamar Aiken to shown more consistency, Marlon Brown to make more plays and Darren Waller to grow up fast.

But more than anything, they need Flacco to consistently play like one of the game's top quarterbacks, to limit mistakes and to improve his accuracy and decision making.

It's obvious that the Ravens are lacking playmakers and that's not Flacco's fault. But the game's top quarterbacks raise the level of the personnel around them and the Ravens need Flacco to do that, now more than ever.

How long will Smith be sidelined?

The Ravens don't even know the answer to that and you can expect them to be vague, especially with how the Breshad Perriman situation has played out.

For now, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said only that Smith won't play against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but he's confident that the 36-year-old will be fine long-term.

Ultimately, the issue is Smith's pain tolerance, which typically is high. If Smith feels like he can withstand the pain and he's not putting himself at more risk, he'll play. There are things that he can do, including wearing extra padding, that might help. But ultimately, it's going to be largely up to Smith on whether he feels ready to play.

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What does Givens bring?

Speed. Over parts of four seasons with the Rams, Givens has averaged 16.3 yards per reception. He's not known for his route running or his hands and his production has dropped off precipitously since he caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season.

But the former Wake Forest standout has shown an ability to get behind a defense. The injuries to Campanaro and Smith certainly facilitated the trade, but it's probably Perriman's continued absence that made this deal necessary. Without the rookie, the Ravens haven't had a guy with elite speed on the outside.

It's obviously going to take Givens some time to learn the offense, but his speed will immediately be a welcome addition.

Who will return kicks?

Campanaro was the team's primary kick returner and he recently had supplanted Smith as the primary punt returner, too. Now, he's out and the Ravens likely aren't going to put Smith at risk when he returns.

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Cornerback Lardarius Webb has been used in fair-catch situations and he had success earlier in his career on punt returns, but as an important part of the secondary, it's a big risk to put him back there.

Running backs Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen have returned kickoffs in practices and warm-ups. And Givens has that ability, averaging 22.9 yards per kickoff return in his career.

If the Ravens don't feel like a combination of Webb, Givens and their two reserve running backs can handle it, they have the option of promoting Jeremy Ross, Asa Jackson or Terrence Magee from the practice squad.

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Will they add another wide receiver in a trade?

It's not out of the question and general manager Ozzie Newsome has already shown that he's not afraid of making a deal and dipping into his pool of future draft picks in acquiring both Givens and cornerback Will Davis over the past couple of weeks.

But Newsome also is not known to panic and trade future assets for a short-term fix. And deals for a big difference-maker on the outside, such as the Chicago Bears' Alshon Jeffery, would cost the Ravens assets.

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With the Bears seemingly willing to trade any of their veterans, Jeffery's name is frequently mentioned in connection with the Ravens. However, he's dealing with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since Week 1. He's also a free agent after the year.

The Ravens will certainly monitor the market, but it seems more likely that their biggest wide receiver additions following the Givens trade will come with the return of Smith and Perriman from injuries.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun


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