NFL

Baltimore Ravens – Five Burning Questions

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The Baltimore Ravens have remained one of the most superior teams in the NFL for the last decade. Prior to missing the playoffs in 2013 after winning the Super Bowl the previous season, the Ravens were the only team in the NFL to earn five consecutive (2008-12) playoff berths.

Baltimore returned to the postseason last year after finishing second in the ultra-competitive AFC North and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road as a wild card team.

General manager Ozzie Newsome once again has the Ravens poised for another playoff run, but that doesn’t meaning questions surrounding the Ravens organization do not exist.

Five Burning Questions….

Will Steve Smith continue to thrive?

Steve Smith’s agent, Derrick Fox of Summit Sports Management told FootballInsiders.com, “He’s (Smith) had a chip on his shoulder from childhood that taller guys we’re always picked before him that he knew he was better than.”

That philosophy and attitude stills remains entrenched in Smith’s persona until this very day.

Smith defies Father Time while simultaneously smirking at the notion that he’ll slow down anytime soon.

With his cheetah-quick route running and furiously impassioned tenacity that a mountain lion would envy, he is ready to pounce at the sound of the whistle.

Smith enters his second season in Baltimore after a tremendous 13-year career with the Carolina Panthers.

Quarterback Joe Flacco identified Smith early on as his go-to target. In their first season together, Flacco targeted Smith more than any other receiver (or tight end). Smith led the Ravens in catches (79) and receiving yards (1,065). He ranked second the team with six touchdown receptions.

More importantly, Smith provided veteran leadership with a hard-edge demeanor which the team had lacked with the absence of linebacker Ray Lewis retiring at the conclusion of their Super Bowl season in 2012.

Smith could build on his productive first year with the addition of new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who favors putting the ball in the air.

Add in the mix two new rookie faces offensively in Breshad Perriman (WR) and Maxx Williams (TE) along with the departure of Torrey Smith (WR), and Smith’s value increases ten fold in the Ravens offense.

 

Is Maxx Williams the next Todd Heap? 

The Ravens sure hope he is after making Williams the first tight end selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Incumbent tight end Dennis Pitta’s career has been marred by season ending injuries and finding a suitable replacement has been in the works.

The drafting of Williams makes a clear indication that the team fears the worst about the Pitta’s future and hopes for the best. Williams will likely thrive in Marc Trestman’s offensive system that utilizes getting the football frequently to the tight ends.

It should not take too many days of training camp to realize if the Ravens have found their tight end of the future.

 

 

Will Justin Forsett survive Year 2 as featured running back?

Justin Forsett spent his entire career fermenting on the sidelines.

That was until last season when starting running back Ray Rice found himself banished from the field for domestic violence, leaving the door open for Forsett to hit like does opposing defensive lines.

Drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, Forsett spent his first six seasons sporadically appearing on the active roster of the four previous teams he played for prior signing with the Ravens (2014).

On the field (not off it), people quickly forgot about Rice. The team’s leading rusher between 2009-13, Rice was the glue and offensive juggernaut of the Ravens. Forsett quickly established himself as a leading force in the Ravens’ ground game and was rewarded with a three-year $9 million contract this spring.

He’ll turn 30 years of age in October and now the question becomes….

Can he do it again?

During Forsett’s first six seasons in the league he carried the football 278 times. Compare that to the 235 attempts he had last year and it is easy to wonder if he can duplicate the production. Especially hitting the ripe-old-age of 30 all eyes will be on Forsett in 2015.

Remember Peyton Hillis?

Relatively underused (and for good reason) and after one breakout year his body broke down.

Forsett can mount another productive year, but throw a little caution to the wind knowing his age and amount of wear and tear he’ll undergo as the primary back in Baltimore could hamper his 2015 production.

How much will the team miss Haloti Ngata?

The impact Ngata made in Baltimore since being selected 12th-overall in the 2006 NFL Draft has been nothing short of amazing.

After his illustrious career in Baltimore that included a Super Bowl victory and five All-Pro seasons, he was traded to the Detroit Lions.

The usual suspects played a factor in the move.

The Ravens were strapped for cash and Ngata was nearing the end his career.

With Ngata now residing in Detroit, the Ravens are holding their collective breath that second-round pick (2014) Timmy Jernigan can maintain the level of excellence achieved by Ngata.

Jernigan showed enough as a rookie to impress the coaching staff and allow them to take a chance on him this season. He notched 23 tackles and four sacks and earned rookie honors for his play while splitting time with the man he will now replace.

Certainly for the short term Ngata will be missed in the Ravens starting lineup.

That is not abnormal due to the talent he brought to the position, but Jernigan brings hope to the defensive front that he can continue the solid play up front for the Baltimore defense.

Does Terrell Suggs find fountain of youth again in 2015?

Possibly the most underrated sack artist of the 21st century, Suggs ranks seventh-overall on the active list for NFL sack leaders with 106.5 quarterback take downs.

Reaching double digit sack totals over the last two years, Suggs is playing at a level comparable to anyone in the league. He turns 33-years old in October and if his play diminishes the question quickly becomes – Who can pick up the slack?

Suggs fits the mold of some current and former teammates. The likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin all are teammates that played with a certain kind of hard-nosed swagger in their step. Steve Smith has it and Suggs brings that same style of play to the defense.

Double digit sacks for a third-year in a row is going to be an impressive quest for Suggs and will also be a first in his career if he does reach that plateau.

 

 


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.