The Baltimore Ravens have some tough choices to make. Luckily, they are the kind of choices every team wants to have.
Throughout the offseason and into the preseason, new players — both young and old — have been stepping up and making cases for why they should be a part of the team that defends their Super Bowl title. With the regular season drawing near, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh need to trim the roster down to 53 players. Doing this will be trickier than in years past, though, since this year’s crop of players boasts a lot of raw talent.
The Ravens have always prided themselves on having depth at cornerback, and this season won’t be any different. Lardarius Webb and Corey Graham will help anchor the secondary with their veteran leadership and talent, but they will have a fine group of backups behind them.
Jimmy Smith may have lost the starting battle to Graham, but he still has good instincts and great athleticism. While Chykie Brown has struggled in limited preseason action, his coaches have raved about the progress he made in the offseason. It seams very likely that he will improve throughout the season as he sees more time on the field.
If the Ravens decide not to keep as many corners on the roster as they have in the past, it comes down to Asa Jackson, Marc Anthony and Moe Lee. Jackson has shown promise as a kick/punt returner and could help carry the load with Jacoby Jones, but he will be suspended for the first six games of the season. Lee has been turning heads since the beginning of the offseason, and notched a nice interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Anthony is a versatile player who can line up at whatever position the Ravens need him to.
Even with the departure of Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain‘s injury, the Ravens have a lot of talent at linebacker. Josh Bynes, Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown are locks for the inside, but who will back them up? Albert McClellan has been a reliable backup and has shown the versatility to play on both the inside and outside. Bryan Hall made the transition from defensive tackle to inside linebacker and has impressed his coaches in OTAs and training camp. Brandon Copeland made a name for himself with a defended pass and a 32-yard interception return against the Buccaneers. There are plenty of talented pass rushers and edge setters amongst the linebackers as well.
Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are the obvious starters and will wreck plenty of havoc upon quarterbacks in the upcoming season. Courtney Upshaw asserted himself as a solid player last season, and will almost certainly be given a chance to improve upon his rookie season. Though he struggled with injuries last season, Pernell McPhee has proven himself to be a talented and versatile quarterback disruptor in the past. Adrian Hamilton and John Simon have both logged impressive sacks in the preseason, proving they could bolster an already strong pass rush.
There will be tough choices to make on the offensive side of the ball, as well. Though the loss of Anquan Boldin has created a huge void in the passing game, Joe Flacco still has plenty of talented young receivers to throw to. Torrey Smith is a proven veteran and Jacoby Jones has undeniable talent, even if he struggles at times. Brandon Stokley still has play-making ability, and will likely be used in the slot and the endzone. Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Deonte Thompson and David Reed have all shown flashes of huge talent in the past, and they could all be used in a committee-like fashion. Tommy Streeter is a tall receiver with strong hands that could develop into a big-time contributor at some point in the future. Rookies Marion Brown and Aaron Mellette have both made big plays in the preseason that could translate nicely to the regular season.
The toughest decisions will likely come with the tight ends, though. With the loss of Dennis Pitta, the Ravens signed Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark to add veteran depth to help Ed Dickson. Billy Bajema was re-signed early in the offseason, though he was mostly used as a blocker last season. Undrafted rookie Matt Furstenburg carried his offseason buzz over to the preseason, making two first-down catches in the first two games. If both Shiancoe and Clark regain their past glory by the end of the preseason, deciding who to cut and who to keep will be difficult, especially if they expect Pitta to return for the playoffs.