The Baltimore Ravens’ mandatory training camp is not until July, but it is never too soon to start singling out players to watch.
As my favorite aspect of the Ravens, I will look at some defensive players first — beginning with linebackers.
I will separate several linebackers into: a player I want to see continue his success, a breakout player, and a player who I want to see improve upon last season.
Daryl Smith stood out among the Ravens’ defensive players, and especially among the other linebackers. Without a doubt, I want to see him continue his success going into his second year as a Raven.
With 123 combined tackles, his performance will be tough to match next season. Going into training camp, I expect him to start towards the same goals and beyond.
There is not much for Smith to improve upon. He was a team player with 66 assists on tackles. He sacked opposing quarterbacks five times, while stepping back into coverage to deflect 19 passes.
There is not much more to ask him to do but to repeat the same. With the other linebackers the Ravens have, he could even step back a bit more into coverage to create more turnovers.
The 19 passes deflected was a record at the linebacker position in Ravens all-time history. He is certainly comfortable doing it, and I would like to see him drop back more often. This would create an offsetting strategy for opposing offenses, not knowing whether he is going to step back into coverage or rush the quarterback.
If I could even begin to give advice to Smith, it would be to go into training camp with the same mindset as last season.
I want to see C.J. Mosley make himself stand out even more heading into training camp in order to give himself the chance to make an impact on the Ravens’ first-team defense.
As I have noted in the past, the Ravens’ defense needs some young players to join its ranks. Mosley could be this player, but nothing can happen without going through training camp. He has been showing good things in OTAs, but nothing can be certain until training camp.
Despite injury worries, Mosely should establish himself as a capable run-defender right away. The draft analysis of his play shows a high football IQ, which is vital to determine what is happening in the backfield in order to stop running backs.
I have no doubt he can become a starter, but first comes training camp where he needs to prove himself worthy among the other players.
There has already been mention of Mosley quickly learning the Ravens’ defense, having come from Alabama where there is a similar scheme. All of this will improve his chances to become a starter right away. And once contact begins in camp, he can show the Ravens why he should be an immediate starter.
The Ravens have spoken during the scouting process about Mosely’s great character off the field. With the recent issues, the Ravens need a strong player to set an example for not only new players, but the current ones too. So he has the potential not only to be a great football player, but a great leader on and off the field.
The player I would wish to begin well in training camp and improve is Terrell Suggs. He has been absent from OTAs, so training camp will be the first look we will have at him.
It may be questionable for me to say Suggs has to improve after having the third most combined tackles on the Ravens, second for linebackers. However, even with 80 combined tackles, Suggs only put up double-digit tackles in two games last season.
He tied a franchise record with at least one sack in five consecutive games in the beginning of the year, but he failed to produce consistent sacks afterwards. Suggs totaled only two sacks over the last two months of the season.
Though Suggs does not step back in coverage to deflect passes, which he had zero in 2013, he became even less effective by not putting pressure on the quarterbacks.
Suggs is a playmaker, and he needs to become one again to help bring the defense back to the top. This means causing more turnovers, having failed to create even one last season.
He combined for 15 tackles over the last five games of the season. Without Ray Lewis, Suggs needed to step up and take charge of the defense, but he did not. His leadership needs to improve greatly not only for the sake of the defense, but the younger players.
I will be looking forward to hearing the news of these players once training camp comes around. Suggs could even start this process by showing up at an OTA.