The Ravens began organized team activities Tuesday, marking the first time this offseason that the team's rookies have been on the practice field with veterans. These workouts at the team's facility in Owings Mills are optional for veterans, though I'm sure coach John Harbaugh hopes all of them will be in attendance. The OTAs will continue into June, setting the table for next month's mandatory minicamp.
Media is allowed to watch practice at the OTAs the next three Wednesdays and for all of the mandatory minicamp, which is June 12-14. We should get a good idea of where everyone stands heading into training camp. Here are 11 players -- Why 11? Why not? -- who I will be watching closely over the next month.
1 and 2. Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith: Due to last year's NFL lockout, rookies such as Smith and Smith were robbed of precious time to learn from coaches and veterans and implement what they learned on the playing field during offseason workouts. But that didn't stop these two players -- and others like Pernell McPhee -- from making an impact in their rookie year. Now that they get some quality time with the coaching staff this spring, they stand to benefit from the education and a little tinkering with their technique. I'm curious to see how much the Smiths have grown up since we last saw them.
3. Sergio Kindle: Kindle is not guaranteed a roster spot this year. He missed the entire 2010 season with a fractured skull and made no impact in 2011. Team officials talked about how Kindle has all the physical tools to succeed. That's a telling thing to say, and not necessarily in a positive way. What are they leaving out? The Ravens need a few players to step up to overcome the injury to Terrell Suggs, and while Kindle will get a chance to compete with Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw for a starting spot, the Ravens would probably be thrilled if he could simply contribute as a reserve pass rusher.
4. Bernard Pierce: With starting running back Ray Rice expected to take a pass on these voluntary workouts as he remains in contract limbo, we are going to get a good look at the three young running backs who will be competing to be his backup. Anthony Allen and Damien Berry have a head start as second-year players, but Pierce, a third-round pick, appears to be a quick, powerful one-cut runner.
5, 6 and 7. Jah Reid, Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski: Before Suggs sustained the injury to his Achilles, the biggest question mark heading into offseason workouts was who would replace Ben Grubbs at left guard -- and you can still make a strong argument that it is still the team's biggest issue. Reid, a second-year player, has been dubbed the frontrunner, but he will be pushed by Osemele, a second-round pick, and Gradkowski, a fourth-rounder. The two rookie linemen are versatile and athletic, but can one overtake Reid and convince the Ravens that a veteran free agent is not needed?
8. Tyrod Taylor: After all the talk last summer about whether the Ravens were crazy for carrying a rookie as their only backup quarterback, it turned out to be a moot point as starter Joe Flacco proved again to be very durable. But this year, the Ravens could go with three quarterbacks as they have signed former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Curtis Painter. I don't think Taylor's roster spot is at all in jeopardy, but he will have to beat out Painter to be Flacco's primary backup. More importantly, I want to see how Taylor has developed since last preseason, when he had his share of ups and downs.
9. Michael McAdoo: Not a week goes by where I don't get a question about this guy on Twitter or in one of our live chats or via email. Yes, the 6-foot-7, 265-pound defensive end is an interesting prospect who went undrafted a year ago after he got caught up in an academic cheating scandal at North Carolina. But based on some of these questions and comments, you would think he was the second coming of Lawrence Taylor. We barely got a look at him last summer before he was placed on injured reserve, so I'll keep an eye on him for all you McAdoo maniacs to see what all the fuss is about.
10 and 11. Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker: Tucker, a rookie kicker out of Texas, participated in the team's rookie minicamp two weekends ago on a tryout basis and impressed Harbaugh, but as of Tuesday morning, he had not been signed to the official roster. Still, it's assumed he will be around all spring to push the veteran Cundiff, who many fans feel needs a good shove after missing a game-tying field goal attempt in January's AFC championship game loss. My gut tells me that Cundiff is mentally tough enough to bounce back from that disappointing miscue, but we'll see how he responds to the challenge from Tucker.