Baltimore Ravens: Recapping the Latest Buzz Heading into Training Camp
Buzz and hearsay are the sustenance of NFL fans during the offseason, so it only makes sense to consolidate the most recent talking points and developments regarding the Baltimore Ravens as they prepare for training camp.
The latest player news and front-office maneuverings are covered here, like extension talks with Justin Tucker and the lofty goals Pernell McPhee has set for himself.
Training camp is where the Ravens will rebuild themselves into contenders, and these are the most recent news items worth monitoring once we get there.
Pernell McPhee Has Grand Expectations for 2014
Pernell McPhee was not lacking for ambition when he talked to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com about his goals for the 2014 season:
My individual goal is to hopefully lead the team in sacks. That’s going to be hard to do when you have Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw and Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata on the field. It’s going to be hard, but that’s my personal expectation. I want to get at least seven or eight sacks this year.
He went on to discuss his “serious” footwork and talked about how well he’s played so far in practices. Those reports may need to be consumed with an entire salt shaker considering the source, but there is no doubting the talent of the Mississippi State product.
McPhee racked up an impressive six sacks in his rookie season, finishing second on the team in the category. But injuries have hampered him since then and he hasn’t been as productive after switching to linebacker.
He’s fully healthy right now, however, and has the speed and agility to create pressure off the edges. Leading the team in sacks is unlikely, but McPhee could provide a nice boost for the defense in the way of some supplementary pressure on opposing QBs.
He’s a player to watch in training camp—both for 2014 and for the future of the pass rush.
Arthur Brown Is Far from Forgotten
Another player that’s worth watching, based on recent reports, is Arthur Brown. He entered the offseason as the favorite to start alongside Daryl Smith in the middle of the defense, but the first-round selection of C.J. Mosley will delay his promotion.
Nevertheless, Brown is poised to make a sizable leap in his sophomore season and has put on seven pounds of muscle to cope with the rigors of defending the run in the NFL, according to Ryan Mink of the official team website:
I can feel it. I’m sturdier out there. It’s about taking on those big 300-pound blockers and being able to stand my ground. As long as I can move around, make plays and be productive, my weight will continue to rise.
The news has been good so far for Brown, and training camp will be a good measure of his development. It’s unclear how much playing time he can earn this season, but his development is still a key part of the Ravens' future.
Jeremy Butler Is the Receiver to Watch Heading into Camp
With the likes of Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown leading the WR depth chart, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Jeremy Butler is the must-watch receiver of training camp.
It’s unlikely that he makes any significant contributions on the field in 2014, but he’s competing with a number of other young receivers for one of the backup spots and has been by far the most impressive of the bunch.
So much so, in fact, that ESPN’s Jamison Hensley recently predicted him as the fifth receiver (of five) to make the final roster over Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams and Michael Campanaro.
Butler’s size and reliable hands have set him apart thus far, and he could turn out to be another undrafted gem of a receiver for the future.
Keep an Eye on Kyle Juszczyk’s Blocking
Kyle Juszczyk has the opportunity to become a surprisingly prominent receiver for Joe Flacco and the offense, but he’ll need to prove that he’s capable as a blocker to earn the playing time for that.
The Harvard H-back honed his run-blocking skills as a lead blocker on returns last season, but paving the way for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will be a different animal.
He wasn’t up for the task last year, prompting Baltimore to re-sign Vonta Leach (which is still an option, by the way).
The fullback position may be losing relevance in the wider NFL picture, but Juszczyk can have a significant impact on the offense—both the passing attack and the ground game.
His training camp performance is one to monitor closely.
Extensions Looming for Smiths and Tucker?
In a recent interview with Ravens Senior VP of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne, general manager Ozzie Newsome revealed that he was working hard to extend the contracts of Jimmy Smith, Justin Tucker and Torrey Smith so they can remain in Baltimore for the long haul.
How those extension talks unfold could have an enormous impact on the future of the Ravens. Torrey Smith is the most intriguing case because he’s a very good young receiver who is set to hit the market at the end of the 2014 season.
Looking at the improvements he’s made every season, Ozzie Newsome would definitely like to get ahead of the curve and sign him to a deal before he can increase his market value during the season.
Based on recent contracts, it looks unlikely that the Ravens will sign any of them to a terrible contract, but they may have to resign themselves to losing one or more of the trio to free agency.