Ravens' camp ready to kick off

As Monday morning arrives in Westminster, the Baltimore Raven players will be report to training camp, first the rookies, quarterbacks and injured veterans, then two days later all the veteran players. All will start to wonder what this football season will be like for them. For the rookies. it is a brand new experience.

No longer in college and studying for each class, they now are studying their playbook and trying to learn a new terminology of football formations and probably more plays then they ever dreamed possible. Finally they are getting paid for doing something they have done since they were little boys and have dreamed of for years.

These players will be anxious,nervous,confused and excited at the times. They won't sleep to well for the next 3-5 weeks. They will wonder, have I done all I could do to prepared myself both mentally and physically for all this? Am I good enough, what are my chances of beating out some of these seasoned veterans and do I have a chance to play in the National Football League?

Two days later all the veteran NFL players will report to the same camp and by Friday every healthy player will begin their journey to see what 53 guys make this team in 2008. This will be a new experience for all of them.They will be preparing for a season with a new head coach, a new coaching staff ,a new play book and a new plan of approach at training camp that they have never seen before as a Baltimore Raven.

Some were around last year under coach Billick, some were on other teams last year but no one has seen or knows what this camp will be like because Coach John Harbaugh has never held a training camp before. All 80 players will by week's end be experiencing something that they have never faced before in Baltimore and all must wonder what each day will bring.

They already know there will be a lot more two a day practice, more contact drills and no sitting on the sidelines during practices. A new beginning for all the players even the ones who have been Ravens for awhile and who have started and performed well for the Ravens in the past, A new chance for other veterans on this team to step up and impress a new coach and maybe have the opportunity to move into the starting lineup and for the rookies and free agents, the chance to see if they are good enough to take a starting position away from a starter from last year.

Only 53 players out of 80 will survive by September to be a Baltimore Raven in 2008.There will be lots of hard work ahead in the coming weeks but the rewards is many if you are among the chosen few that make the grade.

Let's look at who might be around to step on to that field for game one. Injuries will be a factor who survives the cut and performance in preseason and practices also will be important part of the process that will determine the final make up of Coach Harbaugh's first roster. Let's look at each position and see what the coaches are about to judge as camp begins.

THE OFFENSE

Tight Ends- One of the positions that by game one in the regular season may have one or more new faces that are not currently in training camp. With both Todd Heap and Dan Wilcox coming off season ending injuries and a third player(Lee Vickers) with little NFL experience as a starter this could be a position that may require management watching other teams waiver wires to pick up a player by mid August. The big question here is, can these tight ends remain healthy and be ready to perform by game one and stay that way all year?

Wide receiver- Another position that had major injuries last year and many sub par performances most of the year. Derrick Mason the veteran had an outstanding year on possession type passes but this group must produce more mid to long range yards if this offense is to score any points and stay competitive in 2008. Mark Clayton must have a year as good as his rookie season and Demetrius Williams must be fully recover from his injury and step up and be that deep threat that will spread the defense. Matt Willis who was a rookie last year and this years' newcomers (Marcus Smith, Patrick Carter, Ernie Wheelwright and Justin Harper) will see if they are good enough to win a roster spot.
Running back-Another area that is thin with experienced veterans once you get by Willis McGahee their productive starter. With Mike Anderson and Mus Smith no longer here as backups the Ravens are counting on rookie Ray Rice to help out quickly as a good backup. Allen Patrick, P.J. Daniels who is coming off of a season ending injury and Cory Ross are the most likely candidates that will compete for the last roster spot.

Offensive line-There is many big changes at these positions, not necessarily the players but what positions they will play this year. With the retirement of All Pro and future Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden the big question is, who plays left tackle and plays it well enough to give the quarterback protection? This line has been totally redone with no player starting in a position that he has played more than 4 games at last season.

Jared Gaither will be given the first chance to start at the left tackle position. Adam terry the oldest veteran on this line is moving to the right tackle position to start with in training camp, Jason Brown moves to center position that Mike Flynn played last year from left guard. Last years rookie Ben Grubbs switches to his natural position of left guard from right guard. Marshall Yanda also a rookie last year moves into the right guard position from right tackle where at times he looked over matche last year. Chris Chester the high early round draft pick from a few years ago is a backup at both guard and center with rookie tackles (Oniel Cousins, Joe Reitz and David Hale) competing for a backup spot on this roster. A veteran of a few years with this team (Mike Kracalik) will attempt once more to make this roster and with a good camp depending on what he and the other tackles do he could be a surprise starter some time this year.

Quarterback- With the arrival of Joe Flecco from Delaware University the new hope and possible future franchise quarterback that all the Raven fans have been waiting for these many years this will be the most watched competition in training camp. Is this rookie that the Ravens moved up in the draft to obtain the player that could turn this team around finally? Reports have been coming out of the mini camps from every source( players, coaches and media) that he has all the ability, arm and size to be that guy. With the return of Kyle Boller for one more year and second year hopeful in Troy Smith the competition in training game will fierce and exciting and well worth watching. All the players will have a new offense to master and someone will need to step up to show that they can lead this team to an improved a passing game that has had it's problems in the past.

THE DEFENSE

Defensive backs and Safeties

Many of the defensive backs were injured early and often last year and the replacements did not play very well. The Ravens have addressed this need by trading a fourth round draft pick to Oakland for Fabian Washington a former number one draft pick and picking up a couple of veterans( Lenny Walls, Frank Walker).The hope is both Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle will be healthy and back ready to perform well in the later stages of their careers. Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin will be trying to prove they are better than they played last year and both will hope to make the team with solid special team play.

The safety position has returning starters in pro bowl Ed Reed and Dawan Laundry who has worked hard this off season to get stronger and bounce back from a sub par year in 2007. All other safety spots are up for grabs with some draft picks(Haruki Nakamura,Tom Zbikowski) and with a veteran newcomer Jim Leonhard (4 years in the league) competing with last years returnees (Ronnie Prude, David Pittman). Defensive line- Mostly a veteran group that must be considered the strongest over all unit on this years team. Trevor Price is needed to fully recover from his injury if a pass rush is to be had in 2008. Terrell Suggs needs some other players both on the line and at linebacker to perform well and provide some sacks to make this a successful top 5 defense again. The tackles (Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata,Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards) are very good and provide strength of the middle.

Linebackers- A unit lead by Ray Lewis that has been very successful but will have some questions to answer in 2008. Can Bart Scott bounce back from a below average year, will Barnes be a solid backup and pass rusher, is Dan Cody finally going to get on the field and be that guy that the Ravens thought was that pass rusher they selected in round two a few years ago? Now that Jarret Johnson has one year as a starter will he have a good solid season and is the rookie from Miami ( Tavares Gooden) going to be what scouts are hoping he might be, Lewis's future replacement?

SPECIAL TEAMS

A very strong unit should emerge this year from this group. With a solid kicking game (Sam Koch,Matt Stover) some outstanding free agent signings (Frank Walker,Brendon Ayanbadejo) and a speedy kick return guy (Yamon Figurs) look for exciting things from this group. They should create some turnovers and good field position for the offense all year. Many fans will be visiting training camp again this year and will want to see: 1. The new coaches in action 2. If the veteran players are healthy again 3. A more physical contact camp 4. How good the unproven drafted rookies look 5. And of course this new young quarterback Record crowds will be there again this year and even bigger than last year because everyone wants to see the new look Ravens. Fans also want to forget last year, start over and see some exciting football from their Baltimore Ravens in 2008.

It will be an interesting year that the fans should have patience with because lots of changes have emerged. This team has a chance to make the playoffs as did the surprising Cleveland Browns last year but the Ravens could have only 7-8 wins like most teams do in these transition periods. But no matter what happens on the field an exciting season and future success is ahead for these Baltimore Ravens and their loyal fans.


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