Ravens' Nickel Package

OWINGS MILLS -- Checking in on the Baltimore Ravens as training camp approaches in our latest Ravens Insider Q&A.


1. Will Joe Flacco emerge as one of the NFL's top quarterbacks and avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx?

As a rookie, Flacco displayed the rare qualities of composure, arm strength, mobility, intelligence and work ethic. It's that last quality along with improved mechanics and knowledge of the offense that could provide a major boost to his development. His capability to throw on the run and read defenses will be called upon more.

However, he could stand for better accuracy throwing over the middle. If the pass protection is there along with healthy downfield targets, then Flacco could take the next step toward establishing himself as one of the best young quarterbacks. Based on Flacco's command and spirals at minicamps, any regression appears to be an unlikely scenario.

2. What's the state of the passing game fare after failing to acquire an impact wide receiver?

The quest for a big-play outside threat remains unfulfilled despite being linked in the rumor mill to virtually every big-name wide receiver this offseason, including Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall.

The Ravens didn't draft a wide receiver, so they're banking on consummate possession receiver Derrick Mason, inconsistent former first- round draft pick Mark Clayton and durability-challenged deep threat Demetrius Williams. Marcus Smith has improved after a raw, drop-prone rookie campaign. Kelley Washington could contribute as a red-zone threat. Bottom line: The Ravens could use some more firepower, but will likely maintain the status quo outside.

3. Will the Ravens' tradition of strong defense be maintained by new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison?

Under the direction of Rex Ryan, the defense earned a reputation for being intimidating, aggressive and innovative. With Ryan's departure to coach the New York Jets, Mattison is a wild card since the former Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan defensive boss has never coordinated in the NFL. Mattison emphasizes speed, loves to blitz and is maintaining Ryan's trademark 3-4 scheme. The players have embraced Mattison's personality. It will be interesting to watch what wrinkles Mattison implements now that he's in charge. The defense should remain one of the strongest in the league.

4. Who will win several key competitions?

The ultimate depth-chart winners probably won't be determined until a few weeks after the Ravens leave Westminster. However, there are already plenty of clues on the early favorites.

Steve Hauschka has a slight initial edge at kicker over strong-legged rookie Graham Gano, but it's close. First-round right tackle Michael Oher is a precocious blocker expected to fend off oft-injured veteran Adam Terry. With an elite size-speed combination, Tavares Gooden, Ray Lewis' protégé, ranks ahead of gritty Jameel McClain in the chase for Bart Scott's old inside linebacker job. Ray Rice took most of the first-string minicamp carries ahead of Willis McGahee, who's at a career crossroads.

5. What's the status of several players on the mend from injuries?

The good news is nose guard Kelly Gregg (microfracture knee surgery) and strong safety Dawan Landry (neck surgery) have been cleared medically. The bad news? McGahee is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery, Mason had his labrum and scapula repaired and is a question mark for camp, Williams isn't 100 percent after Achilles tendon surgery and tight ends Todd Heap (back) and L.J. Smith (sports hernia) have been limited this offseason.

Plus, tight end Quinn Sypniewski (knee) and offensive guard Marshal Yanda (knee) will start camp on the physically unable to perform list. Yanda is expected to be back by the first or second game of the regular season. Sypniewski's status is up in the air after a second surgery to reattach a bone attached to a knee ligament. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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