There hasn't been a ton said or written about it, but one thing that absolutely should concern Ravens officials is the lack of noticeable progress made this past season by second- and third-year players.
This was supposed to be the year where those guys took the next step, solidifying starting roles and making an early push for big free-agent contracts. How many young second- or third-year Ravens actually did that? Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr had good years, but Mosley had already been to the Pro Bowl. Running back Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson) established himself as a solid NFL running back. Who else?
Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan faded badly after a great start. John Urschel, the presumed replacement for guard Kelechi Osemele, didn't beat out rookie Alex Lewis and apparently wasn't viewed as an upgrade over journeyman Vladimir Ducasse at right guard, or Jeremy Zuttah at center.
Defensive end Brent Urban made little impact, while running back Buck Allen was a healthy scratch seven times. Tight end Crockett Gillmore was never healthy from day one. Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, who had 5 ½ sacks as a rookie, had just one this year and was a healthy scratch three times. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, tight end Maxx Williams and defensive tackle Carl Davis all spent either most or all of the season on injured reserve. In a season when the Ravens needed a lot from their younger players, too many of them struggled to get, or stay, on the field.
What's next at running back
Ravens coach John Harbaugh made it clear at his season-ending news conference Tuesday that he wants to add another running back. That, however, should not be taken as a sign that the team is giving up on West or rookie Kenneth Dixon.
The Ravens were pleased with the West-Dixon combination, but both are pretty similar-style runners. What the Ravens view as a need is a home run hitter, a big-play back that can take a handoff and go 75 yards. Such a player would be a good complement to West and Dixon, who have a nice combination of power and vision, but don't have elite breakaway speed.
I'll update my view of the Ravens' top five needs throughout the offseason. It could change with free-agent departures, but this is how things stand less than a week into the offseason:
- Cornerbacks: Jerraud Powers is a free agent, Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington are potential cap casualties, and Jimmy Smith is hard to trust with his injury history. The Ravens have to add two or three corners this offseason.
- Pass rushers: Terrell Suggs is likely to return, but he’s not an elite pass rusher at this stage of his career. Elvis Dumervil isn’t likely to return. It’s still too early to trust Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith. The Ravens’ late-game defensive troubles stem largely from not having a dynamic pass rusher in his prime to make a play when one is needed.
- Wide receiver: With Steve Smith Sr. retiring and Kamar Aiken heading to free agency, the Ravens have to augment their receiving group. WNST’s Luke Jones first mentioned this and I wholeheartedly agree: pending free agent Pierre Garcon would be a great fit.
- Center: Zuttah battled through myriad injuries this season and played extremely hard, but he had a tough time dealing with big nose tackles and the Ravens were susceptible to inside penetration. If they don’t view Urschel as the long-term answer, the Ravens need to find a big, young and athletic center.
- Safety: Lardarius Webb also is a potential cap casualty and neither he nor fellow starter Eric Weddle is getting any younger. With Matt Elam headed to free agency and Kendrick Lewis a potential cut, the Ravens need at least one more safety.
Future at right tackle
In answering a question about the Ravens offensive line at his news conference, Harbaugh said the team feels good about Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Lewis at left guard going forward. That, along with the team using James Hurst at right tackle over the final two weeks, seemingly indicates that the Ravens view Lewis more as a guard, rather than a potential option to replace pending free-agent right tackle Rick Wagner.
It also means that if Wagner departs, and the bet here is he will, the Ravens will be in the market for a right tackle unless they view huge but raw linemen De'Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot, who both spent the season on injured reserve, as potential solutions.
Coaching staff shuffle
The departures of assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington and strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki, first reported by ESPN, won't be the Ravens' only coaching changes.
The Ravens will bring in a couple of new coaches on the offensive side of the ball, including a quarterbacks coach and possibly somebody to help with the run game schemes. There also are a few more coaches on last year's staff that probably won't return.
For Washington, his departure was a matter of time. The former NFL player had been an assistant offensive line coach for six years. The Ravens believe he's ready and deserving of taking a more expansive role elsewhere. This should facilitate that process. As far as Rogucki, the Ravens seemingly indicated an interest in going a different direction with their strength and conditioning program when they hired director of performance and recovery Steve Saunders last year.
Skip or play in Pro Bowl?
It doesn't make much sense for either right guard Marshal Yanda or Mosley to play in the Pro Bowl later this month.
Yanda is contemplating shoulder surgery, which would certainly knock him out of the game. Mosley is dealing with a calf injury that Harbaugh described as a three-week injury. The Pro Bowl is just over three weeks away. My guess is Mosley will pass.