There are a lot of things to love about June; the end of school, taking time to relax on vacation and hitting your local swimming pool.
The downside is that there is very little to talk about in the way of football. Organized Team Activities will keep the team busy until late July hits and everyone will be abuzz with Training Camp. But, to most people including myself the OTA’s aren’t anything special. It’s drill after drill without pads. It’s necessary but not all that interesting.
So I figured now is a good time to review where the Ravens have been and preview where they are headed; a Review Preview. I’ll go position by position and hopefully get some feedback from all of you in the process.
I’ll start with the glamour position under center with the Quarterback.
Once again, much like every season, the team engaged in the ferocious “Quarterback Competition”, this time three men entered ; and a franchise quarterback emerged.
Kyle Boller by all accounts should have been the starter due to the most experience in the league. While the staff quietly rooted for Troy Smith to swoop in and impress at camp enough for him to get the job. of course neither happened and Boller was placed on IR effectively ending his Baltimore career and Smith was felled by a viral infection that thrust Joe Flacco into the starter’s role at least a year too soon.
Flacco had the Baltimore fans behind him almost right away as he led the team to a fast 2-0 start. He didn’t have to do much as he made a few plays in the air or with his surprisingly nimble feet and simply handed the ball off.
He then shook off poor performances against Tennessee and Indianapolis and showed a cool and resilience in his performance and attitude as the team went 9-2 down the stretch to a Wildcard playoff berth.
Again the unassuming Flacco did his part, protected the football and made plays as the Ravens thumped the Dolphins and then used a Stover Field Goal to get past the Titans for an improbable AFC Title matchup with rival Pittsburgh. However, he struggled to get past the tough Steeler defense and threw a costly interception on the potential game winning drive in the fourth.
Flacco held his own and had a typical rookie season throwing 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and passing for almost 3000 yards (2971) and a QB rating of 80.3.
Troy Smith, once healthy never started a game but was used in some creative ways in Cam Cameron’s offense. One memorable play had Smith taking the hand-off from Flacco and connecting on a 45 yd pass play against the hapless Raiders. But, mostly he stepped in on some Wildcat type sets and rushed the ball as well.
Smith connected on 3 of 4 passes for 82 yards and 1 score. While he rushed 9 times for 24 yards.
Third stringer, Todd Bouman never saw action. But did help young Flacco quite a bit with game preparation.
The job is Joe Flacco’s to lose, barring a major injury or a solar eclipse, he will pilot the team in his second season.
I don’t see a potential for a “sophomore slump” here. Flacco has a quiet confidence about him and even though he doesn’t appear to be a tremendously vocal player he runs an efficient huddle. He is a student of the game and was watching tape of his tough AFC title outing just a few days afterwards taking notes.
Flacco should build upon his 2008 numbers and frankly the Ravens will need him to do so. Early on the playbook was pretty restricted and the options were few. Expect the chains to come off and his reads should be more varied. By that alone his stats should rise.
But the quarterback is only as good as the tools around him. With the team still focused on the rush game and with the no significant additions to the receiving corps you have to wonder how much better the offense can get. Or are they just limited by their personnel?
Troy Smith is still confident that he can lead this team. While I admire his confidence the only way he’ll get his wish is if Flacco is hit by a truck.
So the team hopes to find other ways to involve Smith in the offense for next season, perhaps as a receiver or a “Wildcat” type rusher/quarterback. Whatever the role you should expect to see Smith more on the field.
I have nothing against Smith and would have hoped he would have won a Boller battle last year. But, the times when he subbed in on the field it seemed to only yield big plays against poor teams and against more credible foes only cause delay penalties on the offense.
So the challenge is there to see how Smith can best serve the team. He doesn’t appear excited about his potential hybrid status but he may need to look over his shoulder instead.
John Beck was acquired in the off-season and it’s clear he is competing with Smith for the backup role. He’s familiar with Cameron offense and wouldn’t complain about sitting the bench. The Beck signing to me felt more about covering for a potentially unruly Smith if they might need to trade him.
I expect Smith to keep his backup job for now. Flacco was very durable last season but you never know what lurks around the corner in the NFL. Smith, although with limited snaps to me is a better option than Beck and is more athletic.
Undrafted signee, Drew Willy shouldn’t factor into the equation and should hope for a practice squad invite.