Ravens postcard (cont.)
First-round pick Michael Oher is being counted on to man the right tackle spot and the Ravens have thrust him onto the first unit from Day 1. He raised some eyebrows in his first one on one pass protection drill against the Ravens top rusher, Terrell Suggs. Oher punched him with his inside hand and it knocked Suggs to the ground. Suggs is so well respected that there was a palpable silence after the play. But the veterans definitely took notice.
Oher, for his part, didn't want the word to get out about his impressive opening play.
"No, no, no, don't say anything about that," said Oher, "I don't want him to start to turn up the heat on me."
Like fellow first-round tackles Jason and Andre Smith (Rams and Bengals, respectively), Oher is making the transition from left tackle to right tackle. And like those two, Oher admitted that the adjustment is taking some getting used to, especially as it relates to his hand placement and footwork. The good news is that he has picked up the offense thus far pretty quickly and his aggressive and physical temperament fits the Ravens mold and should play well in the AFC North.
The Ravens are expecting big things this season from second-year running back Ray Rice, especially catching passes out of the backfield, and he showed why during the first padded practice. Rice shook free from a linebacker while running an option route and then made a spectacular one-hand catch in stride, pulling the ball into his chest and continuing to run down field with it as if nothing unique had happened at all. It would have been a highlight-film quality play by a wide receiver which means it is a spectacular one for a running back.
Rice continues to do everything that the Ravens have asked of him and he could supplant incumbent Willis McGahee as the starter. Rice has tremendous power in his lower body and has impressed Ravens coaches with his attention to detail and professionalism. McGahee has been a solid player in Baltimore but has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and doesn't show the same hunger at this juncture of his career. The bottom line is that Rice is an ascending player while the lethal combination of nagging injuries and poor work habits may mean McGahee's production will take a hit in 2009.
Mason coming back to the team was not a big surprise although at least one veteran player did not think he would return. The fact that he returned to the team earlier than even the most hopeful Raven observer expected is a boon for the franchise.
Ed Reed is making wearing a red jersey a habit. For the second year in a row, Reed is a non-contact player as they attempt to manage his nerve impingement. He should be fine for the season but it is an injury that won't go away any time soon, if ever.
Jared Gaither looks the part of an elite left tackle and plays the part at times as well. He may never be physical enough to become an intimidating performer but from a pass protection standpoint he is more than good enough.
Third-round pick LaDarius Webb from Nicholls St. is another rookie to keep your eye on as he made a number of plays during the morning practice that we saw. Unfortunately for him, the Ravens are embarrassingly deep at cornerback so playing time anytime soon could be hard to come by.
New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is going to be aggressive but you may not see quite as much in the way of exotic blitzes. Every coordinator is different and Mattison isn't expected to be quite as much of a risk-taker as his predecessor, Ryan.
We may see Todd Heap put up the numbers this season from the tight end position that we had grown accustomed to a couple of years ago. He feels completely healthy for the first time in a while, Flacco is in his second season, and the Ravens have another threat at the tight end position in L.J. Smith, which could allow for some favorable match-ups for Heap should Smith return to form and become a real threat. Heap spent so much time pass-protecting last season to ensure that Flacco was protected and his numbers suffered as a result.
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