Five questions Ravens face heading into training camp

When they walked off the field as a group for the last time after the end of their 2015 season, the Ravens knew change was inevitable. Turnover permeates every NFL offseason, but a 5-11 finish revealed the Ravens as a team in particular need of it.

A plethora of injuries, many to prominent players, exposed the team's lack of depth in spots. Age wreaked havoc at other positions. Even things the Ravens had traditionally counted on, such as Joe Flacco being under center and the defense harassing quarterbacks, broke down during a miserable season.


The front office and coaching staff spent the past 6 1/2 months making repairs. Veteran free agents Benjamin Watson, Mike Wallace and Eric Weddle were brought in to add production and leadership. An 11-man draft class gives the Ravens a much-needed infusion of talent and youth.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh presided over thorough offseason reviews of offensive and defensive schemes, which should result in some tweaks that might not be noticeable until the start of the regular season. The organization, which watched a team-record 20 players go on injured reserve last season, has revamped player training and recovery methods.


Thirty-two players who are expected to be on the field today for the first full-squad practice of training camp were not in the organization when last season ended. Not only will the Ravens have a new look, they'll also generate new storylines as 2016 training camp begins.

How will Flacco look in his return from knee surgery?

It has been eight months since Flacco stepped out of a huddle and directed the offense. Despite the weapons the Ravens added this offseason, the success of the offense will still depend heavily on the health and play of the team's franchise quarterback.

Flacco said that his surgically repaired left knee feels 100 percent healthy and that he's doing everything he needs to do physically to be ready for the season. However, he acknowledged that there are mental hurdles he still has to get over, including the first hit and the first time an offensive lineman is pushed back into his face. Flacco tore his ACL and MCL when reserve tackle James Hurst was driven back into the quarterback's knee.

Flacco will obviously be rusty, so Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will have to balance getting him the necessary repetitions with not taking chances with his knee. It isn't clear how much, if any, Flacco will play in the preseason. So, it will be important for Flacco to use the practice repetitions to get onto the same page with Watson, Wallace and Breshad Perriman, and work out any of the apprehension he might feel after being out of action for the first time in his career.

Can rookie Ronnie Stanley provide immediate stability to Flacco's blind side?

Several recent highly picked offensive linemen have struggled mightily in their rookie seasons. The Ravens can't afford Stanley having the same problems transitioning to the NFL that the Kansas City Chiefs' Eric Fisher (first overall, 2013), the Jacksonville Jaguars' Luke Joeckel (second, 2013), the St. Louis Rams' Greg Robinson (second, 2014) and the New York Giants' Ereck Flowers (ninth, 2015) endured.

The Ravens still expect Stanley, the sixth overall pick out of Notre Dame, to become the first rookie in franchise history to start at left tackle in Week 1. However, the Ravens are bringing in veteran Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long as insurance. Stanley (6 feet 6, 315 pounds) certainly looks the part and moves well for a big man. He looked fluid and comfortable at left tackle in minicamp, but he needs to get stronger. He's going to be tested this summer by the Ravens' cadre of edge rushers.

Expecting Stanley to play at a Pro Bowl level from the start is probably unreasonable. However, the Ravens need him to grow up fast. The worst thing for a quarterback coming off a significant injury would be a left tackle he couldn't trust.

What can the Ravens expect from the rest of their rookie class?

Stanley is the headliner and the only likely starter of the group, but to rebound from their worst season in Harbaugh's tenure, the Ravens are going to need immediate contributions from several rookies after last year's class, headed by Perriman, struggled to make an impact.

Outside linebacker Kamalei Correa, defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and outside linebacker Matt Judon will be tasked with helping a pass rush that was nonexistent last season. Tavon Young and Maurice Canady need to be ready if the Ravens have another wave of injuries at cornerback.


Prolific college quarterback Keenan Reynolds will get an opportunity to win the primary return job, and, along with fourth-round pick Chris Moore, he'll have to earn a role on a deep receiving corps. Kenneth Dixon should receive time immediately in the backfield, and Alex Lewis might well be the team's top reserve offensive lineman. The Ravens love maintaining a deep defensive line rotation, which bodes well for Willie Henry contributing as a rookie.

When will the Ravens be at full strength?

There's probably no NFL team that is dealing with more injury questions to prominent players than the Ravens.

The list of front-line players who are still rehabilitating injuries or were recently removed from rehab programs include Flacco, running back Justin Forsett (arm), wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles) and Perriman (knee), tight ends Crockett Gillmore (shoulder) and Dennis Pitta (hip), outside linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot). Other potential contributors working their way back are Kaufusi (back), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (calf) and cornerback Will Davis (knee).

Plus, Wallace failed his conditioning test Wednesday. He'll try again today.

Flacco, Forsett, Gillmore, Pitta, Jimmy Smith, Campanaro, Kaufusi and Davis have all been cleared to participate in today's practice in some capacity. However, the Ravens on Saturday placed Steve Smith Sr., Perriman, Suggs, Dumervil, running back Trent Richardson (knee) and cornerback Jumal Rolle (Achilles) on the physically unable to perform list.

That means that they won't be eligible to participate in practice until they are fully cleared. If they are still on the PUP list after training camp — and Rolle is expected to miss the entire season — they'll be forced to sit out the season's first six games.

Steve Smith, who tore his Achilles on Nov. 1, is unlikely to play in the preseason, and his return to the field will probably be much later this summer. Perriman had his knee scoped a little over a month ago and team officials remain hopeful he'll be back at some point in training camp. Suggs, who tore an Achilles early in September, has been at the team facility for several weeks rehabbing and improving his conditioning. He will speak to reporters Wednesday for the first time since suffering the injury 10 months ago. Dumervil had foot surgery early this offseason and is probably the player closest to returning among the six placed on the PUP list.

What are the position competitions to watch?

Harbaugh wants competition at every spot, but as far as starting positions go, the three most obvious openings are at left guard, weak-side linebacker and defensive end. John Urschel is the clear favorite to replace Kelechi Osemele at left guard. Zachary Orr, Arthur Brown and possibly Correa are the main candidates to play next to C.J. Mosley on the weak side. Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban and Kaufusi might platoon at defensive end.


At running back, Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson University) and Lorenzo Taliaferro might be competing for one roster spot. Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Chris Matthews, Kaelin Clay and Reynolds could be vying for one or two jobs at wide receiver. There also might be only one reserve safety spot available for Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks.


Depending on Long's health, you might be able to add left tackle as a position battle.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun