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Five Storylines To Watch At Ravens Training Camp

July 17, 2017
The Ravens organization has spent countless hours during the past six months trying to improve its roster, aggressively targeting the defense during free agency and in the draft, landing Pro Bowl receiver Jeremy Maclin in something of a late-spring coup and working with unproven young players who are expected to step into more significant roles.

The annual grind of training camp will be a critical time for the organization, and not just for the 15 or 20 players sitting on the roster bubble. 

Having missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, the Ravens coaching staff and front office has to be feeling some heat in 2017. 

Here are five key storylines to watch this training camp:

1. How do Breshad Perriman, Jeremy Maclin and the rest of the receivers look?

General manager Ozzie Newsome said one of the team's major offseason needs was a "complementary receiver," and after missing out on the top three receivers in the draft and ignoring the position in the early part of free agency -- drawing the ire of many fans -- Newsome and the Ravens landed Maclin in June after he was a surprise cut by the Kansas City Chiefs.

With that, a passing game that lost Steve Smith Sr. to retirement and Kamar Aiken as a free agent received a major jolt of optimism. 

Maclin had two minicamp practices with the Ravens after signing in June, so he and quarterback Joe Flacco will quickly work to get up to speed. 

Perriman, meanwhile, had an outstanding spring, showing off not only his speed but also improved catching and route-running. 

"It's kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year, when he was running by people, and you can tell he had something," Flacco said of Perriman after a minicamp practice. 

It will be interesting to see how the Ravens utilize Maclin, Perriman and Mike Wallace, who had a team-high 1,017 receiving yards last season. 

Chris Moore appears locked into the No. 4 receiver job, and a host of players, including oft-injured Michael Campanaro, former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews, Kenny Bell and several undrafted rookies are going to be battling for one or two roster spots.  

2. Who will play tight end?

Three months ago, this was perhaps the deepest position on the team, with six players on the roster who had NFL experience. 

But then Dennis Pitta went down with his third major hip injury during an OTA workout, and Darren Waller was suspended for the entire season for a second violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

Of the four remaining tight ends returning, Ben Watson (Achilles) and Maxx Williams (knee) are coming off major injuries. Watson was limited to light individual drills this spring as he looks to return at age 36. Williams, a second-round pick two years ago, was sidelined all spring while recovering from a knee procedure that head coach John Harbaugh said had never been done on an NFL player. 

Crockett Gillmore (eight catches, 71 yards last year) has missed 15 games in the past two seasons and missed more time in the spring with a hamstring injury.

The only tight end who was healthy throughout OTAs and minicamps was Nick Boyle -- who missed 10 games last season while serving a second suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Harbaugh predicted back in March that fans would love watching the tight end competition in training camp. At this rate, the winner of that competition might be the only one standing.  

3. Will the Ravens rediscover a running game?

The Ravens had 367 carries last season, the fewest in franchise history, and criticism about the propensity to abandon the run reached all the way to the owner's box. 

"I was really disappointed in the lack of a running game, the lack of a commitment to the running game," owner Steve Bisciotti said at the team's end-of-season news conference.

The Ravens have vowed that they will recommit to the run and hired Greg Roman, an architect of top-five rushing offenses in Buffalo and San Francisco. Roman, technically the senior offensive assistant/tight ends coach, said the Ravens will "refocus, retool and come up with a plan" to boost a running game that ranked 28th in rushing (91.4 yards per game) and 21st in rushing yards per play (3.99).

The Ravens added multipurpose back Danny Woodhead, and he will complement returning backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, although Dixon will serve a four-game suspension to begin the season. 

"Obviously, we want to run the football more this year, and we didn't get to do that [last] year," Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said. "Everybody in the building wants to get it right."

4. Is Kamalei Correa ready to start?

Linebacker Zach Orr's stunning retirement -- followed by his equally stunning un-retirement and free pass to free agency -- left a gaping hole in the middle of the Ravens' defense. Orr retired because of a congenital spinal condition but changed his mind following further medical evaluation.

The way the Ravens handled the apparent certainty of his retirement administratively resulted in Orr’s free agency.

With Orr and his 132 tackles most likely heading elsewhere, the Ravens are relying on Correa, a second-round draft pick last season, to make a quantum leap from his disappointing rookie year.

Correa and the coaching staff acknowledge that Correa being bounced like a ping-pong ball from inside to outside linebacker and back last season slowed his development. He totaled four tackles. Now after hardly seeing the field on defense, Correa is being counted on to start alongside C.J. Mosley at the heart of the Ravens' 3-4 defense. 

"We have kind of honed him into one spot, and he is really working hard at that and really learning that spot," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said during minicamp in June. "I think he has been moving around great. … As far as where he fits and knowing his responsibilities and assignments and all that kind of stuff, I am very, very pleased with him at this point."

5. Will the young pass rushers have an impact? 

The Ravens identified the pass rush as one of their major offseason needs and with good reason. Last year, the Ravens finished with 31 sacks, their lowest total since 2010 and third-lowest total in franchise history. 

Terrell Suggs, who will be 35 in October, trained in Owings Mills, Md., all spring and looks "renewed," according to Pees. The Ravens also addressed the pass rush early in the draft, selecting edge rushers Tyus Bowser in the second round and Tim Williams in the third. 

It's tough to get a read on the pass rush during noncontact spring drills, but Pees said he likes what he has seen from both rookies. 

"I think both of them are going to … potentially really help us," Pees said.

Suggs is likely to see little preseason game action, which will give Bowser and Williams plenty of opportunity to make a statement. That also goes for Matt Judon, who lined up as a starter much of the spring, and Za'Darius Smith, who recorded one sack during a disappointing 2016 season. 

TRAINING CAMP NOTE: Because of construction at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, no practices at the team facility will be open to the public this summer. The Ravens will, however, hold free, open practices at M&T Bank Stadium at 6 p.m., Saturday, July 30 and at 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 12. They will also hold practice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5.

Issue 235: July 2017