Ravens and Redskins Training Camp Primer
Jul 25, 2013 10:42AM ● Published by Arden Haley
Coming off of their second Super Bowl title 12 years, the Baltimore Ravens face the tough task of having to avoid post-championship complacency. There haven’t been back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots.
As with any Super Bowl champion, changes were afoot once free agency began. Baltimore took care of their first line of business beforehand, re-signing Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to a six-year, $120.6 million deal. However, that deal hamstrung their ability to retain other free agents, allowing players like linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami) to pursue big contracts elsewhere. The team’s biggest losses came from trading starting wide receiver Anquan Boldin to San Francisco, the retirement of linebacker Ray Lewis after a 17-year career, and the departure of safety Ed Reed to the Houston Texans. The team also lost several key veterans in safety Bernard Pollard, fullback Vonta Leach, linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo, cornerback Cary Williams, and center Matt Birk.
Despite the key losses, General Manager Ozzie Newsome was able to work his magic by landing one of the steals of free agency, Elvis Dumervil, after his contract was voided by the Denver Broncos. The veteran defensive end will switch to linebacker in the Ravens’ 3-4 scheme. The team also added Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round of the draft to take over Lewis’ right inside linebacker spot. Matt Elam, the team’s first-round selection out of Florida, and Michael Huff, signed as a free agent following seven seasons with the Oakland Raiders, are slated to take over at safety for Reed and Pollard. On the defensive line, tackle Marcus Spears and end Chris Canty were signed to provide a veteran presence.
The team opens their first full-team practice tomorrow and will be holding the majority of its training camp practices at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. Due to limited space, fans can enter to win tickets to watch practice in Owings Mills and Stevenson University (August 18th) via a lottery at www.baltimoreravens.com/TCLottery. There will be two off-site practices that are free and open to the public: August 4th at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and August 11th at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Whether you plan on attending a practice or observing from the comfort of home, here’s what to watch for as the summer heats up:
1. Torrey Smith’s progression as the new No. 1 receiver
Jacoby Jones is a fine target at receiver who had a superb postseason, averaging 29.4 yards per catch with two big touchdowns and will likely increase his role in the offense in 2013 but his biggest contribution will remain on special teams. In 2012, he excelled with a career-high 38 kickoff returns for 1167 yards and two touchdowns. Jones added 341 yards and another touchdown on 37 punt returns. However, with Boldin gone, this means Torrey Smith has the chance to emerge as a leader on offense in his third season. With the help of Boldin on the other side, Smith improved in yardage, average per catch, touchdowns and first downs in his second season. Guys like Tandon Doss, David Reed, and Tommy Streeter will have to step up to make life easier for Smith.
2. How will the defense fare without Lewis, Reed?
When you’ve established the kind of rapport on one side of the ball as the Ravens had built with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, it’s tough to see one of them go, let alone both. But Reed had been plagued by injuries in recent years and with so many years on his resume, the team wasn’t banking on Lewis being around for much longer, even before he announced in early January that he was going to retire following the 2012 season. The Ravens did a fine job of filling in major holes on defense with the signings of Dumervil, Canty, Spears, Huff, and linebacker Daryl Smith, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time leading tackler. The team returns stalwarts Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata so there should be no problems there.
3. What kind of impact will Dumervil have?
Speaking of Dumervil, he should not have been able to leave Denver. He was all set to send paperwork back to the Broncos to reduce his 2013 salary from $12 million to $8 million after signing a six-year, $61 million deal in 2010. Unfortunately for Denver, the paperwork didn’t make it back in time, meaning Dumervil had to be released. The standout pass rusher has accumulated 63.5 sacks in six NFL seasons, making him the type of player that should have never been able to hit the open market. It remains to be seen how the defense - especially the reshuffled linebacking corps - will gel with all the new faces added this offseason. Dumervil’s switch to linebacker could affect his performance but it should not be by much.
4. The return of Lardarius Webb to the secondary
When starting cornerback Lardarius Webb went down with a torn ACL in Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys last season, the team was forced to see what 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith was made of. He started the next two games but the team relied on Corey Graham to start the final 12 games opposite the now-departed Cary Williams. Webb will bring back a reliable, solid veteran presence that gives coaches more comfort at the corner position than what Smith has brought to the table so far. He is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab and will likely be ready for Week 1 of the 2013 season when the Ravens take on the Broncos.
5. Will Bernard Pierce continue to improve as Ray Rice’s backup?
With 502 rushing yards in his rookie campaign, Pierce ran for more yards than any Ray Rice backup since Willis McGahee posted 544 yards in 2009. Pierce’s 502 yards are the most rushing yards for a Ravens rookie since Jason Brookins put up 551 yards in 2001. Pierce only had seven catches and 47 yards through the air in 2012 so improving as a receiver will also help lighten Rice’s workload.
The Redskins are coming off of a 10-6 season and their first NFC East Championship season since 1999 thanks in large part to the play of rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Griffin passed for 3,200 yards and ran for a rookie quarterback record of 815 yards and seven touchdowns. A sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, Morris seemingly came out of nowhere to surpass the Redskins single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. After a 3-6 start, the season was hallmarked with a seven-game winning streak and FedEx Field’s first playoff game in 13 years.
Approaching their second straight offseason with an $18 million cap penalty, the Redskins produced a solid offseason when considering their restraints. Without a lot of cap space to sign big free agents, Washington shifted its focus on retaining their own by re-signing 11 of their own free agents, 12 if you count DeAngelo Hall, who they cut and re-signed in a money-saving measure. The only major loss is special teams leader and captain Lorenzo Alexander, who took his talents to the Arizona Cardinals for three years, $9.5 million.
Without much money at their disposal, the team targeted discounted talent at positions of need. Cornerback E.J. Biggers was signed to replace Cedric Griffin as the nickel cornerback and David Amerson, who the team hopes to develop into a starter in the near future, was selected in the second round of the draft out of North Carolina State to add depth. Former Philadelphia Eagle Darryl Tapp joins the Redskins while making the move from defensive end to linebacker. Athletic quarterback Pat White was signed to help mimic Griffin’s skill set in spring practices. Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood were signed to push right tackle Tyler Polumbus for the starting spot.
The Redskins chose not to retain Cedric Griffin, returnman/wide receiver Brandon Banks, safety Madieu Williams, tackle Jordan Black and linebacker Chris Wilson. Tight end Chris Cooley, who never wanted to play anywhere but D.C., chose to join ESPN980 as an in-game analyst this season, effectively ending his nine-year career.
This year, the Redskins will move training camp away from Ashburn, Va. for the first time since 2002. Moving down I-95, the Redskins will spend at least the next eight years in the brand-new Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond. On-site parking is not available for fans but select parking within walking range is offered for $5 and parking that requires a shuttle will be $7. The team will open camp tomorrow with 28 walkthroughs and practices, including Fan Appreciation Day on August 3rd. Visit http://www.redskins.com/news-and-events/training-camp for more details.
While there are plenty of storylines that can be discussed with the Redskins, here are five specific plots to watch develop in Richmond:
1. RGIII’s health
The most important story to follow is the health of Robert Griffin III’s knee. The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year tore his right ACL, LCL, and partially tore a medial meniscus. He tweeted earlier this week that he was cleared to practice but that coaches will ease him in to a routine. It was also reported this week that he will likely not see any action in any preseason games, a la Adrian Peterson in 2012. The decision to not place Griffin on the physically unable to perform list means he’ll be able to take part in 7-on-7 drills and continue to build a rapport with his receivers. The team’s second leading rusher in 2012 is expected to take a much more measured approach this season, which includes passing more and running less.
2. Stepping up at safety
Washington greatly improved its offense in 2012 but was dragged down by a horrendous pass defense that was on pace to break records for yards allowed. The defense and the secondary gradually improved as the team went on its playoff run but safety help was still the biggest priority. Safety was addressed in the draft when the team took Phillip Thomas out of Fresno State (fourth round) and Bacarri Rambo out of Georgia (sixth round). Thomas led the NCAA in interceptions in 2012 while Rambo finished second behind Amerson in 2011. Both are ballhawks who can play strong and free safety. For now, returning veteran Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty are slated to start but Rambo and Thomas are starting material. Meriweather went through a tumultuous 2012, going through multiple knee injuries. He played against the Eagles on November 18th and had a big impact in just over one half of play, logging seven tackles, one interception and defending two passes before tearing an ACL. His health will determine how much playing time the rookies get. Tanard Jackson, suspended “indefinitely” for the whole 2012 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, is not eligible for reinstatement until August 31st. He was slated to start last season and could be a wild card depending on what kind of shape he is in, how much he retained from last summer’s defensive playbook, and if the coaches even feel he’s worth keeping around after a year-long hiatus.
3. Orakpo, Carriker’s return to health
Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams marked the final time linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker would see the field in 2012. Orakpo suffered a torn left pectoral while Carriker tore a quad tendon. Orakpo’s presence helped Ryan Kerrigan collect 11 sacks as a rookie in 2011. The loss of Carriker and Orakpo partly explains why the team’s sack total dropped from 41 in 2011 to 32 in 2012. Both men are fueled by having to witness a division title run develop before their eyes while on the sideline. Orakpo is said to be at 100 percent now while Carriker suffered a setback in March and will start camp on the PUP list but hopes to be ready for Week 1. In the meantime, Carriker’s backup Jarvis Jenkins will have to make strides and show he still has the talent he displayed in the 2011 preseason before tearing his ACL.
4. Finding a third-down running back
It’s tough to ask Alfred Morris to replicate the surprise rookie season he bestowed upon Washington. While running for 1,613 yards has its perks, life was not made easier considering no other running back ran for 90 all season. Evan Royster, a sixth rounder in 2011, topped out at 88 yards on the season. Roy Helu, a fourth-round selection in 2011, stepped in admirably when Tim Hightower went down with an ACL tear in October 2011. However, Helu became injury prone and missed 13 games in 2012 after being placed on injured reserve with turf toe and a lingering Achilles’ tendon injury. Helu is the prototypical change-of-pace back Morris could use but durability is a question. Royster will have to show more quickness, burst, and more decisiveness if he wants to earn the third-down back role. The team drafted Chris Thompson from Florida State and Jawan Jamison from Rutgers to compete with Helu and Royster for backup running back spots.
5. Who will replace Lorenzo Alexander as special teams leader?
While it’s understandable the Redskins didn’t want to pay almost $10 million to a special teams player who was strictly a backup linebacker, Alexander did any and everything asked of him in his six seasons in the burgundy and gold. A fan favorite, he routinely led the Redskins in special teams tackles and was almost always the first man to meet returners head-on in coverage units. With special teams coordinator Danny Smith now in Pittsburgh, it will be interesting to see who catches the eye of new special teams coordinator Keith Burns. The team re-signed linebacker Bryan Kehl this offseason, who shined on special teams last preseason. He played in five games with the Redskins in 2012 and looks to get even more playing time this season now that Alexander is out of the fold. Safety Reed Doughty and tight end Niles Paul will also try to help fill the void left by Alexander on coverage units.