Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Ravens Camp Watch
By Jamison Hensley
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: The Ravens run defense will miss veteran outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson. Suggs was a very underrated run defender, and Johnson did the thankless job of setting the edge. Now, Baltimore has to figure out how to maintain its dominance against running backs after Johnson left for San Diego in free agency and Suggs injured his Achilles tendon (he's hoping to return in the second half of the season). It would be tough to replace one. It's a major challenge to fill the void at both outside spots.
Baltimore's plan is for underachieving second-round pick Paul Kruger to replace Suggs and for Courtney Upshaw, the team's top pick in the 2012 draft, to take over for Johnson. There's a legitimate concern about if Kruger is strong enough to hold up for an entire game and an entire season. He showed that he can rush the passer (a career-high 5.5 sacks last season), but he has never been known as a physical run-stopper. Unlike past seasons, teams will test the Ravens run defense in the fourth quarter.
One thing that might happen: Torrey Smith assumes the role of the Ravens' No. 1 wide receiver. The Ravens had repeatedly failed in developing a drafted wide receiver from Travis Taylor to Mark Clayton. That drought appears to be over after Torrey Smith made a splash after being selected in the second round in 2011. He finished only behind the Bengals' A.J. Green and the Falcons' Julio Jones in receiving yards by a rookie last season.
If Smith continues to grow, he has a chance to become the Ravens' top wide receiver this season. He clicked with Joe Flacco downfield, covering at least 25 yards on five of his seven touchdowns. There were times when it looked like Smith had more chemistry with Flacco than Anquan Boldin. Flacco's strong arm meshes better with speed receivers. And there's no receiver faster on the Ravens than Smith.
One thing we won't see: Players talking about how a trip to the Super Bowl slipped through their grasp. Six months removed from that nightmarish AFC championship game, the Ravens believe they have moved past Lee Evans' failed catch in the end zone and Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the final minute. This is probably true because Baltimore has had enough recent distractions (Suggs' injury in addition to the absences of Ray Rice and Ed Reed this spring) to take the organization's mind off that loss in New England.
If there is a lingering effect, it will be seen in Cundiff. He insists that he hasn't lost any confidence, but he will have to prove that by making kicks. Scott Norwood and Gary Anderson struggled mightily after critical misses in the postseason. The Ravens didn't bring in any veteran competition for Cundiff in camp, but they might have to do so if Cundiff is off the mark this summer.