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Ravens in serious need of some playmakers

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman prepares to catch a pass during NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Owings Mills. Perriman, expected to be a playmaker for the Ravens this season, hasn't practiced since early in training camp.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman prepares to catch a pass during NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 16, 2015, in Owings Mills. Perriman, expected to be a playmaker for the Ravens this season, hasn't practiced since early in training camp.(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

The Ravens should be able to match up physically with any team in the NFL, but they appear to lack playmakers heading into Sunday's season opener against the Broncos in Denver.

Right now, they have only one proven playmaker in two positions where they are definitely needed: cornerback and wide receiver. They have very little speed and, with the exception of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., no game-changers.

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A major goal heading into training camp was to find one or two more, but none surfaced. The Ravens are content to remain with the status quo.

Maybe they believe some young players need more time to develop, or that there aren't better candidates on the free-agent market. Maybe they don't have the salary cap room to make a move. Maybe it's a combination of all three, but it's an area that has to be addressed.

In the NFL these days, defenses attack in such a way that offenses no longer mount a lot of 10- to-13-play drives. You need at least three or four explosive plays a game, and with the Ravens, you can't see where they are going to come from consistently.

Smith still can deliver, but he doesn't have great speed and is 36. On defense, starting cornerback Jimmy Smith was solid in the preseason but hasn't shown the Pro Bowl form of a year ago. Fellow starting cornerback Lardarius Webb hasn't shown anything except that he is still prone to injury.

A year ago, the Ravens had a lot of speed. On the outside, they had receiver Torrey Smith, who could blow by defenders or turn a short slant into a 35-yard gain. They also had another speedster in receiver Jacoby Jones, who could give the Ravens a big play as either a receiver or returner.

But Smith took the 49ers' free-agent money and ran off to San Francisco, and the Ravens were simply tired of Jones' inconsistency and moodiness on game day.

They thought they had a solution to the speed problem with the selection of Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round of the NFL draft, but Perriman hasn't practiced since the first week of training camp because of a sprained knee.

Only Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance has been more of a mystery than Perriman's absences. There has been speculation that Perriman might play against Denver, but his impact will be limited. He doesn't have timing with Flacco or a rhythm with the other receivers on crossing routes, rubs and other patterns.

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It is impossible for him to be as sharp as if he had practiced the past three weeks. The absence of a vertical threat is critical to an offense because it can open up other areas of the field, especially for a team loaded with possession-type receivers like the Ravens

But here is another problem: With the exception of Smith, no wideout has stood out. Kamar Aiken has been solid but far from exceptional. Marlon Brown had been a no-show until he caught a long pass against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday in the final preseason game. Second-year player Michael Campanaro spends almost as much time in the training room as on the practice field. He might win the punt return job simply by default.

The tight ends haven't been impressive, either. Crockett Gillmore is a better blocker than he was a year ago and might be a target inside the red zone, but what about the middle-of-the-field offense? Rookie Maxx Williams, the team's second-round pick out of Minnesota, runs good routes and has strong hands but has little speed and needs to be tougher.

The Ravens have a good running back in Justin Forsett but no burner behind him.

On the other side of the ball, Jimmy Smith started strong in training camp, and then his pace slowed. It's hard to tell whether he suffered from boredom or was saving himself from the wear and tear of training camp.

Regardless, the Ravens need him to play well. He has to become the team's shutdown cornerback and be able to press receivers at the line of scrimmage. If Smith doesn't play at a high level, the Ravens are in trouble.

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Webb needs to be careful and has to get onto the field soon and often. He failed the conditioning test to open the preseason and didn't have a strong training camp. That was supposed to be his time to show the coaching staff he had rebounded from injuries.

It never happened.

Unfortunately for the Ravens, they don't have anyone better than Webb. Kyle Arrington can play outside but is better as a No. 3 cornerback covering a No. 3 receiver or tight end in the slot.

As for reserves Rashaan Melvin and Tray Walker, well, they need to remain backups.

It's interesting how this has panned out. Through the years, general manager Ozzie Newsome has had some impact players with speed, going back to Jermaine Lewis and Derrick Alexander and followed by Qadry Ismail or Torrey Smith on one side of the ball and Duane Starks or Chris McAlister on the other.

But this year, the Ravens were searching for answers when the preseason started, and they are still looking now.

And the wait goes on …

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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