Positional Analysis: Baltimore Ravens

A unit-by-unit analysis of the Jaguars next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens.

QUARTERBACK: Starter – Joe Flacco. Backups -- Troy Smith, Todd Bouman.

Flacco has won the starting job by default, due to a season-ending injury to Kyle Boller and an illness that forced Troy Smith to lose 15 pounds. Flacco has played solid after being thrown into the starting quarterback job and he seems to gain more confidence each week.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Willis McGahee, FB Le'Ron McClain. Backups -- RB Ray Rice, FB Lorenzo Neal.

With no legitimate quarterback, the Ravens will rely on McGahee to carry the offense. But that could be a major problem, too. The Ravens want him to become an every-down back, it's uncertain whether he knows the offense. Like he did for years in Buffalo, McGahee decided to skip most of the offseason minicamps. He then missed a majority of training camp because he needed arthroscopic knee surgery. The only alternative is Rice, the second-round pick out of Rutgers. The undersized back runs with toughness in between the tackles and is dangerous catching passes in the flats. Le'Ron McClain has the potential to be one of the NFL's top fullbacks but lacks work ethic. The Ravens signed hard-nosed Lorenzo Neal near the end of training camp to become a role model for these young backs.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Todd Heap. Backups -- Daniel Wilcox.

Heap has been sidelined most of the preseason with a calf injury. If he can get healthy -- which was a problem last season -- he could have a career season. It wouldn't be a surprise if Heap put up numbers similar to San Diego's Antonio Gates, who benefited greatly from Cam Cameron's play calling. Beyond Heap, the Ravens lack depth. Wilcox is solid but he has struggled all offseason with a toe injury. He continues to play with pain.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Mark Clayton, SE Derrick Mason. Backups – Terrance Copper, Yamon Figurs, Marcus Smith.

The Ravens' passing game will suffer because there are no playmakers at receiver. Mason has the best hands on the team but he lacks speed to beat cornerbacks deep. So, he'll catch between 70 to 80 passes but he won't be breaking too many 20-yard plays. The hope is that Clayton and will rebound from a season in which they combined for no touchdowns. Clayton, who had family issues last season, has taken hold of the starting job.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jared Gaither, LG Ben Grubbs, C Jason Brown, RG Chris Chester, RT Adam Terry. Backups-, OT Willie Anderson, OT Oniel Cousins, G David Hale.

Heading into training camp, the biggest concerns were at tackle with Gaither and Terry. Now, heading into the regular season, they are even bigger question marks. Gaither and Terry were sidelined for most of the preseason with ankle injuries. It's unknown whether either one is a legitimate, full-time starter in this league. The interior of the line is really solid. Grubbs has a strong punch off the line. Brown is stout at center. Yanda is a fighter in the trenches. The depth is marginal with Chester, but they signed long-time Bengal, Willie Anderson.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Trevor Pryce, NT Justin Bannan, RDE Haloti Ngata. Backups- Marques Douglas, Brandon McKinney, Lamar Divens.

This group has the potential to be the best defensive front in the league. The x-factor on defense is Pryce. When he was sidelined for a huge chunk of the season, the Ravens never had the same pass rush without him. Pryce changes games with his ability to penetrate up the middle. The Ravens were still strong at stopping the run because of Gregg and Ngata, two linemen who had Pro Bowl-type seasons. Ngata is one of the more agile linemen in the NFL. The Ravens have solid backups in Bannan and Douglas, who was acquired from Tampa Bay before the final preseason game.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB Jarret Johnson, RILB Ray Lewis, LILB Bart Scott, LOLB Terrell Suggs. Backups -- OLB Jameel McClain, ILB Nick Greisen, OLB Antwan Barnes, ILB Robert McCune, OLB Brendan Ayanbadejo.

It's uncertain how this group will respond after underachieving last season. Lewis is still strong against the run but isn't the same dominating playmaker from years ago. If the Ravens want to get back to their aggressive and attacking defense, they need Scott and Suggs to get to the quarterback this season. They disappeared as a tandem last season, totaling six sacks after combining for 19 in 2006. Johnson, who replaced Adalius Thomas last season, isn't a spectacular player but he doesn't make too many mistakes.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Chris McAlister, RCB Samari Rolle, SS Dawan Landry, FS Ed Reed. Backups -- CB Frank Walker, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura, FS Jim Leonhard, CB Corey Ivy, Derrick Martin, CB Evan Oglesby.

The Ravens get McAlister and Rolle back from injury this season, but they could suffer a bigger loss in Reed. The four-time Pro Bowl player is uncertain whether he'll start the season because of a shoulder injury. Without Reed, quarterbacks won't fear going deep against the Ravens. Landry, the other starting safety, is one of the most physical players in the NFL. The Ravens are hoping that McAlister and Rolle rebound from injury-marred seasons. They have to hold up because their backups have gotten ripped apart in the preseason. Walker and Ivy were picked several times in the preseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Stover, P Sam Koch, LS Matt Katula, KOR/PR Yamon Figurs.

Stover won't convert many kicks beyond 50 yards, but he remains one of the most accurate within 40 at the age of 40. Koch is a solid punter who needs to improve his touch inside the 20-yard line. Figurs is a boom-or-bust type returner. He has the ability to return kicks for a touchdown, but he often struggles at fielding them.


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