It’s almost time for training camp, which means position battles that have already been raging are really going to heat up. With all of the roster overhaul the Baltimore Ravens have done this offseason, there are several key positions that are up for grabs.
Everybody knows about the wide receiver battle going on and the exciting prospects it has yielded, but there are several other current roster contests unfolding which shows that Ozzie Newsome is one of the best general managers in the NFL.
Cary Williams‘s departure left a hole opposite Lardarius Webb, and there are two frontrunners for the job thus far. Corey Graham seems to be the obvious choice, given his experience and penchant for making big plays, but Jimmy Smith is working hard to sit above him on the depth chart.
Though he is entering his third year in the NFL, Smith has yet to live up to expectations as a former first-round draft pick. Injuries and inconsistencies have plagued his short career, limiting his playing time to five starts in 23 games. That said, he has shown flashes of talent that, if built upon, could earn him a starting role in the Ravens’ secondary.
There’s also a big hole directly in front of Joe Flacco due to Matt Birk‘s retirement. So far, Gino Gradkowski — who played for the same school his starting quarterback played for — is the projected winner. He showed impressive athleticism and technique in limited action last season, and has the benefit of having been drafted as Birk’s presumptive heir.
The Ravens traded for center A.Q. Shipley from the Indianapolis Colts back in May, however, with the intention to add depth and provide competition for Gradkowski. Though Shipely hasn’t had many opportunities to show what he is made of at the professional level, he impressed many last season when he filled in for an injured Samson Satele for five games.
Linebackers is another area on the Ravens’ roster that boasts some more than decent talent. Injuries made the lineup fluid last season, but it gave a few backups a chance to make an impact and audition early for what would end up being an area of need during the offseason.
With Ray Lewis retired, Dannell Ellerbe in Miami, and Jameel McClain still recovering from a spinal injury, there are several players in the mix for claiming starting roles. Daryl Smith has the most experience and has a strong track record during his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Albert McClellan started 11 games last season and showed admirable edge-setting skills, as well as an ability to disrupt the quarterback.
Though he has only started three games in his short career, Josh Bynes has shown a ferocity that could be downright dangerous with time and training.
With the exciting prospect of a winning position battle comes the reality that only a handful of guys will be starters. The tighter the competition, though, the better the depth. If there’s one thing the “losers” of the aforementioned battles can take solace in, it’s that they are valued backups on a roster of solid players.