The Baltimore Ravens reported to training camp this week as they embark on defending their AFC North title. The defense will have to be more creative since losing players like linebackers Terrell Suggs and C. J. Mosley along with safety Eric Weddle but coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale should be up for the challenge.
Offensively, the Ravens are looking to showcase quarterback Lamar Jackson both as a passer, in addition to his electrifying playmaking ability running the ball. Here are three things to watch as the Ravens begin training camp:
Quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Tight Ends— Since rookie wideout Marquise Brown is starting camp on the NFI (non football injury) list, Jackson will not have the vertical threat on the field. The tight ends are the strongest group of pass- catchers on the roster led by Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst.
Pay close attention to how offensive coordinator Greg Roman uses Andrews and Hurst on the field at the same time in their two tight end packages. Veteran Nick Boyle is back after signing a healthy three-year, $18 million contract. Although blocking is Boyle's calling card, Baltimore didn't pay him that much to just be a factor in the run game.
Watch how Roman figures out ways to pass the ball out of big sets with all three tight ends on the field. Boyle has soft hands and can be used out of the back field on play action passes to make easy throws from Jackson to get into a groove.
What happens at inside linebacker?— As I mentioned earlier, Mosley is no longer in Baltimore.
Expect Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young to man the middle for the first unit. Both players are very athletic linebackers that can track down running backs. Despite that, there will clearly be a drop off from Mosley, a perennial All-Pro.
One of the main areas that Young and Onwuasor have to step up to is Mosley's leadership of the defense. Mosley was the one that Martindale relied on to call plays in the defensive huddle. He was the one taksed with getting everyone lined up correctly as well. Pay attention to whom will be asked to take on that role now.
How does safety Earl Thomas look in full contact periods?— The Ravens signed Thomas once Weddle moved on in free agency. Thomas coming off a broken leg that cost him 12 games last season. The team got to see Thomas during OTAs and minicamp, but that was in shorts, t-shirts, and helmets.
The real test will be when practice is live and the players are able to hit. Watch closely how aggressively Thomas attacks ball carriers. He has always been a sound tackler who delivers a punch despite not being a big player. How long will it take for Thomas to regain that form after missing so much time last year?