Baltimore Ravens: Aaron Ross

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NFL Nation's Jamison Hensley examines the three biggest issues facing the Baltimore Ravens heading into training camp.

Filling in for Ray Rice's expected absence: The Ravens are coming off the worst rushing season in franchise history and likely will have to revive the ground game without having Rice for a period of time. He is expected to be suspended by the NFL for his off-the-field incident this offseason. After not signing a high-profile free agent such as LeGarrette Blount, the Ravens are left with no experienced starters in the backfield beyond Rice. Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro have combined for eight career starts. Pierce is the favorite to take over the starting job, but he was limited this entire offseason after having shoulder surgery. Forsett, the primary backup this spring, had a total of six carries last season. And Taliaferro is a fourth-round rookie from Coastal Carolina. Defenses could see a heavy dose of Pierce if he's healthy, or the Ravens could go with a running back by committee. Even when Rice returns, he has to prove he can be a productive runner again after averaging a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry last season. The Ravens believe they can turn around their running attack with the hiring of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who has built successful ground games in the past with his zone-blocking scheme.

Sorting out secondary competition: Two of the biggest questions on defense involve position battles in the secondary -- free safety and nickelback. The competition at free safety didn't unfold as expected this spring. It was presumed that Terrence Brooks was the front-runner for the job after the Ravens selected him in the third round. Instead, Brooks hasn't seen time with the first or second teams this offseason, and Darian Stewart has taken most of the reps at free safety. When the Ravens signed Stewart in free agency, he was considered a fallback option. He had six starts last season for the St. Louis Rams. Now, it looks as if free safety is Stewart's job to lose. At nickelback, Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown were fighting for the job all offseason. But it was presumed the Ravens would add a veteran when neither stood out this offseason. The Ravens, in fact, brought in two free agents, Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks, to make it a four-player race for the No. 3 corner spot behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. If Ross and Stewart end up winning the open jobs, they can thank secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo, who previously coached them in the NFL.

Preparing Rick Wagner to start at right tackle: The Ravens were expected to draft an offensive tackle. They didn't. There was speculation the Ravens might sign free agent Eric Winston, who has ties with Kubiak. But again, the Ravens didn't make a move. By standing pat, the team has given a major vote of confidence to Wagner. A fifth-round pick from a year ago, he has been penciled in to replace Michael Oher, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency. As a rookie last year, Wagner struggled when he had to replace an injured Oher in the season opener. Wagner improved throughout his rookie year as the team's No. 6 offensive lineman, playing when the team wanted an extra blocker on the field (12 percent of the offensive snaps). The Ravens realized Wagner needs a lot of snaps to gain confidence in his technique, and they've been giving him plenty of reps during offseason practices. If Wagner doesn't live up to expectations when the hitting begins in training camp, the Ravens have other options. They could move left guard Kelechi Osemele to right tackle, give Ryan Jensen more snaps at that position or sign Winston. At this point, the Ravens are banking on Wagner as their season-opening starter at right tackle.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' two open spots could be filled in the near future.

The two cornerbacks who stood out the most were Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks. Ross, who played under secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo with the New York Jets, had his best practice Thursday, when he intercepted rookie quarterback Keith Wenning and stripped the ball away from tight end Phillip Supernaw.

The Ravens could also add a tryout receiver. Mike Willie (formerly of the San Diego Chargers) looked better than Dezmon Briscoe (Washington Redskins) on Thursday.

"I would say those guys acquitted themselves very well," coach John Harbaugh said of the tryout players. "They looked really good. We don't have enough roster spots for everybody. We'll sign a couple of guys and we'll keep a couple of guys on speed dial, and we'll see where we're at."

The roster spots were opened up when wide receiver Aaron Mellette and linebacker Adrian Hamilton both failed physicals before minicamp.

Note: The Ravens signed linebacker Austin Spitler after his week-long tryout. Spitler, 27, is a 2010 seventh-round pick of the Miami Dolphins. He spent four seasons with the Dolphins and primarily played special teams.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the team could "absolutely" sign one of the free-agent cornerbacks who worked out Tuesday.

"We were pleased with them," coach John Harbaugh said. "I couldn't sit here and distinguish one from another right now. It's just too hard to watch all that with the naked eye. But they all looked good. They're all in shape, which is a credit to those guys. You come off the bench, so to speak, and here you are in a fast practice like this. We'll go back and look at the tape really closely tonight, take a look at those guys again tomorrow and see where we are."

Dominique Franks stood out as the best among the four veteran cornerbacks. He went stride for stride deep downfield with wide receiver Steve Smith, who needed to push off to make the catch. Franks also picked off rookie quarterback Keith Wenning's underthrown pass.

A fifth-round pick by Atlanta in 2010, Franks played in every game for the Falcons the past two years as a reserve. He has three career interceptions and broke up nine passes.

Drayton Florence, who is coming off the best season of any of the tryout corners, didn't have a good day. He got beat deep by rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro and had to grab Marlon Brown's jersey to stop another big completion against him.

The other cornerbacks who were working out were Aaron Ross and Marquice Cole.

Harbaugh said this practice allowed the Ravens to "kick the tires" and find out if the cornerbacks have bounced back from their injuries.

"We're going to take the best 90 guys to training camp, and we're going to have the best bullpen that we can for training camp," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have also expressed interest in Brandon Flowers, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
The Baltimore Ravens are looking at veteran cornerbacks during their mandatory minicamp this week.

Cornerbacks Drayton Florence and Aaron Ross both confirmed they'll be trying out for the Ravens. Florence, 33, started five games for the Carolina Panthers last season, and Ross, 31, has played most of his seven-year career with the New York Giants.

The Ravens are looking to improve at the No. 3 cornerback spot and add some veteran depth. Right now, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson are battling for the third cornerback job.

Florence is considered one of the best available cornerbacks on the free-agent market. He recorded 26 tackles and two interceptions for a Panthers pass defense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL last season.

The interest makes sense because Ross has a connection with Ravens secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo. Ross was a starter for the Giants in 2007 and 2008, when Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator there.

The question with Ross is whether he's healthy. Ross, 31, appeared in only four games last season before a back injury sent him to injured reserve. He worked out for the Detroit Lions in April but went unsigned.

The Ravens' unproven depth at cornerback behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb is a reason why the team could be a dark horse candidate for free agent Brandon Flowers.

Note: The Baltimore Sun reported that Dominique Franks and Marquice Cole are among the free-agent cornerbacks trying out for the Ravens. Franks, 26, was with the Atlanta Falcons for the past four seasons. Cole, 30, has been with six teams and played last season with the Denver Broncos.