The roster for the Baltimore Ravens in the coming 2014 season is going to feature both old familiar names along with an interesting collection of new players. A large part of the fascination with the offseason involves trying to understand and anticipate who will be on the roster for opening day. The signing or re-signing of free agents and the NFL Draft are both particularly connected to this root interest in who will be wearing the Baltimore uniform in 2014.
Over the years as a baseball writer, I have sought to gain some early clarity on rosters by a process of elimination – of reasoning logically those players who will (barring injury) certainly be on the final roster. Of course, there is no such thing as 100% “barring injuries.” Even so, this logical process brings the roster decisions to be made down to a much smaller number than our minds typically imagine. For example, with the Orioles, by the time you factor in the Adam Joneses, Chris Davises, and those with the investment of a definitive contract, there are really only about four or five roster spots typically remaining.
To be sure, football is a bit more difficult to reason one’s way through than is baseball. The roster is more than twice the size with more moving parts in terms of players who can serve in multiple roles. The NFL active roster is 53 in number, out of which 46 may dress for a game. There are an additional eight players on a practice squad. Weekly, the demands of a particular game, and especially the health of players, dictate the dance that goes on of personnel being shifted from one category to another.
But in an attempt to get a first shot at a 53-man roster for the 2014 Baltimore Ravens, over a series of about 10 articles let us reason together about the personnel already under the tent. There will be a few more acquisitions for sure, but at the moment the Ravens list a total of 90 players – counting all veterans and including all draftees (UFAa also).
And as we go into this series of articles, here are some assumptions I will make – again, this is a continuously moving target. Let us assume that the Ravens will make a 53-man roster that includes 24 offensive players, 26 defensive players, and three others for the kicking game (kicker, punter, long snapper).
The offense we will break down as follows: two quarterbacks, four running backs (one fullback), six wide receivers, four tight ends, and eight offensive linemen. This is fairly typical in the NFL with the exception that many teams may take only three tight ends and have nine on the line. But given the tight-end-oriented offense of Gary Kubiak being designed, the Ravens are sure to keep four of these big boys with the gentle hands.
The defense will presume the following disposition: seven defensive linemen, nine linebackers, six cornerbacks, and four safeties. Again, this may vary, but for our purposes I have chosen one less defensive lineman and one extra linebacker than many teams – due to the prevailing 3-4 defense of the Baltimore Ravens and their linebacker use. Many of these guys are also the stars on special teams, if special teams ever have stars rather than unsung heroes.
So the process here is to whittle down 90 players to 53 keepers, while also coming at the final number of 53 by admitting to the number of players who are “can’t miss” types. I’m pretty sure we can say that Joe Flacco is going to make the team – so there, we are down to 52 in one sentence!
Special Teams / Kicking Game
To get started, let’s begin with some low-hanging fruit of the three positions related to the kicking game – kicker, punter, long snapper. Next time we will jump into the 24-man offence.
KICKER – No question here. The Baltimore Ravens have one of the premier kickers in the game in Justin Tucker who was “All Universe” in 2013. To review the awesome numbers, he made 28 of 31 field goals attempted, with a longest score of 61 yards. That followed a 30-of-33 season in 2012. He has been perfect on all 68 extra points and is equally awesome on the deep kickoffs. This is a treasure for the Ravens.
PUNTER – There is a question here, though it might not be a giant one. Sam Koch has been an effective punter for the Ravens since the 2006 season. There is some sense that his 2013 season was not quite as good as others. He registered the highest number of punts in his career with 90 in total – which speaks of some of the offensive struggles of the team last year.
The Ravens have signed an undrafted free agent punter – Richie Leone from the University of Houston who was a second team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. An analysis of this was recently discussed by The Baltimore Wire staff writer Richard Smith HERE. But given that Koch is the holder for Tucker and that this is such a well-oiled machine, my guess is that Sam Koch will be back with the Ravens for the 2014 campaign.
LONG SNAPPER – This too is a very settled position for the Baltimore Ravens, at least for the next year. Morgan Cox, at age 28, is in the second year of a two-year contract. The University of Tennessee grad came back from an ACL injury at the end of 2010. He had two solo tackles in 2013 and recovered a Wes Welker fumble in the opening game against the Broncos. (In keeping with a theme this year of the Ravens drafting some academic types, Cox was Academic All-SEC in college.)
So, we are down to 50 names to go. Come back for the whole series and speculate with us and argue or whatever ………..