The wait is finally over. Yes, football has officially returned, so to speak. The expansion Houston Texans started training camp yesterday, along with Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. The Ravens will follow suit on Thursday. That means that you can expect the usual training camp happenings to take place. You know, lineman having a hard time running gases, rookies making plenty of mistakes and coaches screaming their heads off at nausea. You can also expect a lot of holdouts around the league, season changing injuries to occur, and intriguing training camp battles to start getting heated.
For the Ravens, they're hoping that the first two circumstances do not occur. However, they'll probably welcome the wide array of different positional battles that will undoubtedly help bring the team together. Here are the top five match-ups to look out for.
1. Chris Redman vs. Jeff Blake: It always seems like the Ravens have some sort of quarterback controversy every time of the year. This year is no different, but don't expect as much of a battle to occur as you think will occur. Simply put: Redman will be the Ravens' starting quarterback for much of the season. If Redman ever gets pulled in favor of Blake, it will be because Redman completely bombs halfway through the regular season. The Ravens have too much invested in him to give up on him too hastily.
2. Gary Baxter vs. James Trapp: Like Redman, Baxter should be given most of the season to assimilate himself at the cornerback position. However, don't rule out the possibility of James Trapp, a grizzled nickel/dime back to get the shot to play in case something goes haywire. While Gary Baxter has the prototypical size, catch-up speed and wingspan to become a very solid corner at the next level, he also has his weaknesses.
3. Brandon Stokley vs. Ron Johnson: Out of all the positional battles that will take place this summer, this will be the most contested tiff. Stokley is the No.2 wideout. So it is his position to lose, but he will need to watch his back in all likelihood. Johnson fits what the Ravens need in a possession receiver, while Stokley may be better suited to line up in the slot formation. If Stokley struggles to produce early, the Ravens will likely look for Johnson to step into the starting role. In fact, with Stokley becoming an unrestricted free-agent next year, Johnson is likely his heir to be.
4. John Jones vs. Terry Jones Jr.: With the lack of offensive potential currently on the team, you can be assured that the Ravens will use a lot of two tight end formations to keep defenses off guard. There is also a good chance that the Ravens will use all three of their tight ends in some capacity, because tight end is the deepest position on the team. Todd Heap is clearly the No.1 option, but either Jones will have to play a key role as the No.2 guy. The Ravens will go with John Jones as their No.2 tight end initially, but Jones Jr. has the blocking skills and raw upside to become a sleeper.
5. Chester Taylor vs. Tellis Redmond: Will the Ravens have a solid backup tailback behind Jamal Lewis? That's one of the biggest question marks swirling around training camp this season. Taylor is the more talented back of the two. He possesses surprising power to run inside of the box, and the slashing cutback ability to get out in open territory. Redmond has more speed, and is a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Between the two backs, someone will need to step up in a big way.