Ravens mailbag: Who'll surprise, disappoint?

RavensInsider.com publisher Jason Butt answers subscribers' questions concerning the Baltimore Ravens.

I received some great questions from the VIP Club board on where the Ravens stand. Here they are:

Chris from Pompton Lakes, N.J.: With Jah Reid not being able to get on field, and Ramon harewood actually on it, does he now have a chance to stick around the roster this year?  Seems like a player who the last couple years looks like he has had some talent but has not been able to get on field.

This was something some of us media folks have discussed as well. My thinking is yes, this would only increase Harewood's chances. Reid can't begin the year on the PUP list, and his only chance to not count against the roster is for the new IR rule to go into effect (where one player can go on IR but come off it during the season.) With that stated, Harewood's put in some good practices lately. Considering Reid's status is up and down, the Ravens could be in need of another tackle on the 53-man roster, which would work in Harewood's advantage. 

RavensInsider.com member 21XXXV states: I am impressed with both CB Asa Jackson and WR Deonte Thompson. Speed is one thing, but I like how they play during the two games. Neither one IMO are overwhelmed at this level.

True, and both players possess special teams ability which is valuable at the rookie stage. Jackson's come up with some big defensive plays in practice. A couple of weeks ago he had two picks in one session, and on Tuesday, he dropped two picks he should've had, albeit broke on the ball well and at least broke up the passes. It'll be interesting to see how he performs as a return specialist this Thursday. 

Thompson has been the surprise of the offseason, though folks knew his skill by the time training camp rolled around. Both have an excellent chance at making this year's roster. For Thompson, the coaches will have to weigh production vs. potential between him and sixth round draft pick Tommy Streeter. 

RavensInsider.com user 1WinningDrive asks: What are the defensive stars opinions of the new Defensive Coordinator (Dean Pees)?

The players love them. Here's a Ray Lewis quote from Tuesday:

"Every coach has a little twist here or there. It's always one thing that they are going to do a little bit different than the other, but pretty much it's mostly the same. At the end of the day, it always ends up being the same thing. Coach Pees is just a great intellectual coach. He wants you to understand not just what the defense is doing, but actually how you are being attacked and things like that. And not saying that Chuck wasn't, but Coach Pees really puts a lot of emphasis on that."

Paul Kruger described Pees as having that "old man wisdom." They look at Pees as a grandfather in a way, someone who's extremely smart with what he does and can explain the concepts thoroughly. The team has completely bought into his style. 

Plus, he's been the linebackers coach for a few years so it's not like he's a new face in Baltimore. 

RavensInsider.com user Meghan10 asks: What player do you think will be the biggest surprise in 2012? Biggest disappointment?

Surprise: I've got two for you: I believe LaQuan Williams will surprise a lot of people with how much he plays, rotating into Baltimore's uptempo offense. He's been a terrific possession receiver through camp and has even broken off some deep passes. On the defensive side, I believe outside linebacker Albert McClellan will play a lot more than people think right now. He's outperformed Courtney Upshaw in camp as Upshaw battles his shoulder injury and gets used to being in the NFL. McClellan's been stellar in practice. 

Disappointment: I'm not sold on Jimmy Smith as a starting cornerback yet, but that's not to say he won't get there at some point. He still has issues finding the ball in the air and has been beat a number of times during practice. He's probably the most athletic cornerback on the roster with ideal size, which causes fans to clamor for him to play at a higher level as soon as he can. But he's still a work in progress as of now. However, Smith should get a lot of playing time as Baltimore will be forced to run a lot of nickel packages throughout the year. That will only help his development, though he could still experience some growing pains here and there.

Bob in Charlottesville asks: Once McKinnie gets in shape (assuming he does), how do you see the OL being juggled? Osemele has looked good so far - and better than Williams (who also has ankle issues). Is the staff more inclined to pull Osemele and move Oher back to RT, move Oher to RT and Osemele to LG or maybe even just move Oher to LG? I'm hoping Osemele gets to start somewhere.

This week, before Marshal Yanda's tweaked leg, the Ravens placed McKinnie on the first team offensive line back at his left tackle spot. Williams was next to him at left guard, with C Matt Birk, RG Yanda and RT Michael Oher. Williams will begin the season as the starting left guard, but if his ankle bothers him or if he has some early trouble then a move could be made to put Osemele in. But I believe the starting offensive line will look like this for the Cincinnati opener: LT McKinnie, LG Williams, C Birk, RG Yanda, RT Oher. Osemele will back up right tackle and left guard. Behind them you have Gino Gradkowski who can back up both center and guard and Jah Reid who can play either guard spot or right tackle. While Osemele is unlikely to begin the year a starter, he very well could work his way into one. He's been the most impressive draft pick in camp. 

Bob in Charlottesville asks: Most of us seem to be rooting for Tucker to beat out Cundiff. I am because he's out-kicking Cundiff so far and also because I think it'd be good for Cundiff to get a change of scenery after the NE game. If nothing changes over the next 2 weeks, who do you think the organization goes with?

The competition is still Cundiff's to lose. Tucker's shown a big leg and everybody, including myself, has been impressed. But let's be real: How often are the Ravens going to kick from 55, 58, 60 or 65 in a game? It's not going to happen whether the kicker is Cundiff or Tucker. Now, Tucker has also out-kicked Cundiff from inside of 50. But there's a comfort level Baltimore has with Cundiff, and outside of one practice where he missed two chip shots (24 and 34 yards), he hasn't had a bad miss in camp. The preseason game kicks also carry more weight and he, like Tucker, hasn't missed yet. He has to miss bad in a game with Tucker staying strong to lose his spot. 

RavensInsider.com user MABulldog asks: I'm pleased to see Cam (Cameron) letting Joe (Flacco) run the no huddle or muddle huddle. How committed to this are the Ravens?

It looks like the team is very committed to this, and Flacco couldn't be happier about it. This is what he wants to run and this is what he's comfortable in. They'll still slow down the offense when needed but you can definitely expect a ton of uptempo, no-huddle offense this year. 

RavensInsider.com user MABulldog asks: Seems clear that the top three WRs are Torrey (Smith), (Anquan) Boldin and (Jacoby) Jones. How would you rank the next three?

I'd go with: 4) LaQuan Williams, 5) Tandon Doss and 6) Deonte Thompson. Outside of the goal line drop against Detroit, Williams has been superb throughout training camp. He's caught almost everything thrown his way. His concentration has been superb. Doss is just starting to get healthy again and he could be a good slot receiver option in this offense. His skill set is a lot like Anquan Boldin's. Thompson has done a lot of everything. He can go deep, go over the middle, play special teams, etc. It'll be tough to let Thompson go at this point. Figuring out that last receiver spot will be this coaching staff's toughest decision when cut day comes. 

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