The Baltimore Ravens enter the 2015 NFL season as one of the favorites in the AFC. They owned the draft once again and every free agent signing made perfect sense for the organization. It came as no surprise when Peter King of SI.com rated them as his top team of the offseason.
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John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome have built another solid squad with several marquee players, but also a terrific blend of role players to compliment the roster. The Ravens have plenty of young, talented players that look to be the future of the franchise. But is it too early to be so reliant on such a young roster? Looks as though we are going to find out this season.
The days of the national audience knowing many Ravens players as household names are over. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone. So are Torrey Smith and Haloti Ngata. The current team features Joe Flacco, the always cool presence on offense, and Terrell Suggs, who plays the nasty style of defense that Lewis and Reed made a point of emphasis in Baltimore. Outside of that, it would be likely that the casual fan doesn’t know many others on the Ravens roster.
The nucleus of this franchise is now built around younger talent than we’ve seen during the Harbaugh years. This team is focused around young guys like Brandon Williams, C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith on defense. What remains to be seen is what is the future of the Ravens offense.
The obvious choices would be this year’s first two draft picks in Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams. That is a lot to ask for from two guys who have been limited during training camp. In fact, the Ravens will enter the season with six rookies at the skill positions: Buck Allen and Terrence Magee at running back, Williams and Nick Boyle at tight end and Darren Waller and Perriman at wide receiver. That is a lot of inexperience at key positions on offense.
Like most teams, the Ravens reserves are a mix of young players that have roles on special teams. Harbaugh hopes to develop those youngsters into NFL-ready talent, but that takes time. That time isn’t a luxury if an injury comes around.
What is troublesome about the youth movement is just how bad the backups played when they took the field in preseason. The reserves struggled to make stops on defense and move the ball effectively on offense. The starters played average during the preseason, but the backups will see playing time at some point. It’s a guarantee that injuries will happen and the reserves will be thrust into the action.
It’s good to see guys like Michael Campanaro and Kapron Lewis-Moore getting a chance in the NFL. They have shown that they can make plays when called upon. However, can the Ravens count on these guys to be significant contributors if something were to happen to the guys ahead of them? Would they be ready for prominent action if necessary?
That’s why it was a bit surprising to see someone like Cassius Vaughn let go. The Ravens do have some veteran cornerbacks in Smith, Lardarius Webb and Kyle Arrington, but it’s nice commodity to have a veteran backup on the roster. Sure, the finances make that difficult at times, but a player with starting experience is valuable, especially since Webb hasn’t been the most durable player over the past few years. If you watched the preseason, you may have noticed that Tray Walker is nowhere near ready to get on the field yet.
Last season, the mistake the Ravens made was entering the season with an average secondary. That came back to bite them once the injuries started to pile up. Will the youth movement be the Achilles heel this season? Let’s hope not.
It’s important to have a good mix of veterans with youth when developing a football team. There is no question that this team is led by Flacco and Suggs, but Baltimore has built a solid foundation for many years to come.
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