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Preston: It's time for some young Ravens to step up

The 2017 season will be a pivotal one for the Ravens.

Not only will the status of coach John Harbaugh be determined, but so will the immediate future of this team with close to 15 draft picks reaching the critical third- and fourth-year marks in development.

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It's a make or break year for a lot of people.

With Harbaugh, he is about to enter his ninth season and at the point in which a lot of head coaches have to reinvent themselves. Their voices and messages become tired not just to the players, but with other employees.

Winning, though, overrides everything. But the Ravens haven't been to the playoffs in three of the past four years and have had only one winning season during that span. In 2015, they were just 5-11.

Privately, Harbaugh and Newsome understand the sense of urgency that surrounds this team, but is more prevalent in 2017.

Certain players need to feel that way, too. A lot of them are still young, but not according to NFL standards. When players such as wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and tight end Crockett Gillmore enter their fourth seasons, it's time to step up, or step back.

They don't need to be superstars, but they have to play certain roles. As much as the top-notch players carry teams, players such as Campanaro, Gillmore and center John Urschel are the blue-collar foundation.

Now, it is time for them to prove they can play.

Gillmore was a third-round pick out of Colorado State in 2014 and Campanaro was taken four rounds later in the same draft out of Wake Forest. Both showed brief promise earlier in their careers, but neither can stay healthy for substantial periods of time.

Tight end has become a revolving door for the Ravens, and Gillmore could solve a lot of problems. The team has had as many as seven players play the position during the last year. Campanaro could become a prime weapon as a returner and in the slot, flanked by Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin on the outside.

In the case of Urschel, a fifth-round pick from Penn State in 2014, the Ravens desperately need a starting center. If he plays well in the preseason, then the team doesn't have to sign a veteran free agent such as Nick Mangold. That leaves the Ravens with only one open spot at right tackle.

The same can be said about running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, another fourth-round pick in 2014. He is attempting to make the transition from halfback to fullback. The Ravens want to play power football this season, but they only have one other fullback on the roster in Oregon rookie Ricky Ortiz.

Now, imagine if Taliaferro becomes the starter. Not only is he a threat as a lead blocker, but as a runner and pass catcher.

The Ravens have seven third-year players who are in similar situations, but the pressure isn't as great because they've had one less year of development. Well, except for receiver Breshad Perriman.

The 2015 first-round pick out of Central Florida missed his rookie season because of a knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp. The Ravens have had nearly two years to work with this speedster.

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There are no more excuses for dropped passes. In offseason minicamps, Perriman has played well and appears more relaxed. He needs to have a strong season for the Ravens to get where they want to go.

In 2015, the Ravens selected tight end Maxx Williams in the second round and Nick Boyle in the fifth, but it looks as if Boyle might contribute more this season than Williams.

At this point, it doesn't matter because the Ravens need to find a tight end — any tight end — and that includes Darren Waller, a sixth-round pick in 2015 from Georgia Tech.

On the defensive side, the Ravens need fourth-round pick Brent Urban to take over a starting role. Urban has great size at 6 feet 7 and 300 pounds, but often plays too high. The Ravens want him to replace Timmy Jernigan, but he doesn't have that type of athleticism or motor.

It will be interesting to watch third-year outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and tackle Carl Davis. Both showed promise as rookies, but Davis was put on injured reserve in early September last season and Smith had only 10 tackles and one sack in 2016 compared with 20 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a rookie.

They'll get a chance to play. If the Ravens make any big moves between now and training camp, it will be a surprise. At the end of the last offseason minicamp practice, Newsome headed from the practice field and into the training facility.

A little later, he came out in golf attire and headed to a course. When Newsome plays golf, that usually means the roster is set for training camp. It's time to compete. The Ravens are counting are on some of these young players to step up, not back.

Because the future is now.

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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