By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
4:00 AM PDT, August 6, 2012
The Ravens had 13 players not participating in any part of practice Saturday and another two (tight end Ed Dickson and linebacker Darry Blackstock) who didn’t finish the workout because of injuries. The potentially season-ending Achilles tear to linebacker Terrell Suggs was the biggest blow obviously, but the loss of practice time for first or second-year players like Bernard Pierce (hamstring), Tandon Doss (hamstring), Jah Reid (calf), Courtney Upshaw (shoulder) and Jimmy Smith (back) shouldn’t be overlooked. Upshaw is the only one on the list that was a near certain starter, though Smith is competing with Cary Williams for a starting role. But the rest of the above-mentioned group figure to, at the very least, be key reserves. Ravens coach John Harbaugh does a great job not publicly fixating or fretting about injuries, but I’d have to imagine the coaching staff is getting anxious with how much practice time these guys are missing. The good news is Upshaw says he is real close to a return and Doss said that he expects to practice today.
Speaking about fretting about injuries, before anyone does such a thing about center Matt Birk’s extended absence from practice, it’s probably worth remembering that the veteran barely practiced last training camp and he wound up playing all 18 games for the Ravens.
Five guys that stood out to me after second week of camp:
1. QB Joe Flacco – Some members of the media have scoffed at the quarterback’s comments that he’s not even thinking about his contract. I understand the skepticism, but if you’ve watched Flacco in training camp for even a day, you’d be assured that he’s not the least bit distracted. Calm, accurate and in control, Flacco looks primed for a big season.
2. G/T Kelechi Osemele – Getting most of the repetitions at right tackle with the first-team offensive line, the rookie second-round pick had some crushing blocks on Sergio Kindle and Paul Kruger, among others. He may be a little raw technique-wise, but the physical tools are there.
3. S Ed Reed – So much time is spent discussing and dissecting his contract and his comments to the media that you forget how much Reed still loves playing football. He remains all over the practice field, ranging sideline-to-sideline to get his hands on the football.
4. RB Bobby Rainey – I still would be moderately surprised if the undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky makes the team, but I think there’s a spot for him somewhere in the NFL. He’s shifty and makes things happen with the ball in his hands.
5. K Justin Tucker – I was trying to avoid putting guys in this space for consecutive weeks, but the undrafted free agent agent is impossible to ignore. Even Billy Cundiff, who is trying to hold off Tucker for the starting kicker job, said that Tucker has been “lights out.”
Five quick observations:
1. Dickson earned the criticism about his hands by dropping so many balls last year, but I’ve seen significant improvements from him in that area during training camp.
2. I understand that Tyrod Taylor’s athleticism and speed are tremendous assets for him. However, there are times I’d like to see him stand in the pocket a little more and make some throws.
3. I think the first couple of preseason games will be big for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. I don’t think he’s in danger of getting cut by any means, but he’s had a relatively quiet camp and the Ravens are pretty thin at linebacker and need him to contribute.
4. Linebacker Albert McClellan doesn’t get talked about as much as Kindle and others, but I expect him to not only make the team, but to play a meaningful role.
5. The play of wide receiver Deonte Thompson and linebacker Nigel Carr was the talk of OTAs. Carr continues to play pretty well, though Thompson has slowed down a little bit and had a number of drops last week.
The Ravens have used roster space in recent weeks to upgrade the depth at linebacker (Stevie Baggs Jr., Ricky Brown, Blackstock), wide receiver (Logan Payne), tight end (Billy Bajema) and offensive line (Cord Howard). With Pierce ailing and Anthony Allen and Damien Berry having relatively quiet training camps thus far, I wouldn’t discount the Ravens looking into adding a veteran running back. There are plenty free agents available, including Joseph Addai, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Thomas Jones, Chester Taylor and Cadillac Williams. Ultimately, the Ravens are content to go young at backup running back, but at some point they are going to need one of their current backs to emerge and separate himself from the pack in training camp. That hasn’t happened yet.
I saved this for last because I don’t want to steal anybody’s thunder here, but I’d like to welcome Aaron Wilson to our Ravens’ coverage team at The Baltimore Sun. I’m sure if you are reading this, you are familiar with Aaron’s work and coverage of the Ravens. He’s done a fine job covering the Ravens for The Carroll County Times since 2001. You’ll see his work regularly on this blog and in newspaper. He’ll be a great addition to our staff.
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