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Baltimore Ravens

The four position battles to watch at Ravens training camp

When the Ravens open training camp Wednesday in Owings Mills, quarterback Lamar Jackson will be the center of attention once more, the intrigue over his contract negotiations obscuring the unusual state of the team’s roster: There aren’t a lot of starting jobs to be won. At least not yet.

Sure, ongoing rehabilitations will force some backups into first-string roles in practice. And, yes, injuries will inevitably shake up the Ravens’ depth chart somewhere. But for the most part, the most intriguing roster battles for general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh are closer to the bottom of the Ravens’ projected depth chart than the top.

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Here’s a look at how four camp competitions are shaping up ahead of the Ravens’ first week of practice.

Starting left guard

What the Ravens need here is another Bradley Bozeman: a young, capable lineman who can make it through a full season. Bozeman, before he moved back to center last season, didn’t miss a start at left guard in 2019 or 2020. His immediate successor in 2021, Tyre Phillips, lasted less than a half in the season opener before he was injured. Ben Powers started the next 12 games, often splitting repetitions with the sometimes-injured Ben Cleveland. Then Powers got hurt, and Cleveland started the Ravens’ final four games.

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Powers, who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, was maybe the steadiest of the Ravens’ left guards last season, finishing with the lowest overall blown-block rate of the trio (1.6%), according to Sports Info Solutions. But if Phillips and Cleveland enter camp with lower floors, their ceilings are also higher. Phillips, who struggled when pressed into tackle duty last season, was solid in his 40 snaps at left guard, with no blown blocks, according to SIS. Cleveland, meanwhile, impressed in pass protection as a rookie but lacked the knock-back power he showed in Georgia’s running game.

No. 3 running back

Depending on the availability of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, both still recovering from season-ending knee injuries suffered last preseason, this fight for a reserve job could turn into a fight for a starting job. That was the case last season, when Ty’Son Williams emerged from the wreckage of the Ravens’ running back room with a tenuous spot atop the depth chart.

This year, the challengers are fourth-year veteran Justice Hill, newcomer Mike Davis and sixth-round pick Tyler Badie. After losing his 2021 season to a torn Achilles tendon, Hill participated in mandatory minicamp and should be in even better shape for training camp. He was a special teams standout in 2020, an asset now even more valuable with the offseason losses of defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. (retirement) and inside linebacker Chris Board (free agency). But his fit in the offense is still to be determined.

Davis, 29, seemed to find his footing in the Ravens’ offense quickly after signing in May. But he’ll need to show more than he did with the Atlanta Falcons last season, when he finished last among qualifying running backs in average rushing yards over expectation, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Then there’s Badie, who led the Southeastern Conference in rushing last year and impressed as a receiver in offseason workouts. His greatest obstacle might be his inexperience; neither Dobbins nor Edwards broke out until November of their rookie year.

No. 3 wide receiver

Devin Duvernay’s production as a receiver over his two years in Baltimore has been inconsistent, but he enters camp with decent job security as the Ravens’ No. 2 wide receiver. Less certain, and perhaps less important, is the Ravens’ No. 3 option: James Proche II or Tylan Wallace?

Proche easily cleared Wallace last season in both total yardage (202 receiving yards to 23) and relative efficiency (1.2 yards per route run to 0.5 yards). But Wallace, much like Proche in his rookie year, didn’t have much of a sample size to pull from. He played just nine offensive snaps through Week 10, and three games with double-digit snaps in all.

Regardless of how they stack up — Proche has better hands and is the more advanced route runner, while Wallace projects as a more dangerous downfield threat with more inside-outside flexibility — both should play regularly this season. The rotation’s biggest hurdles could be “heavy” personnel groupings. If the Ravens rely more on two- or three-tight-end looks, there’ll be fewer snaps available for their wide receivers.

Reserve safety

There might not be a tougher competition to handicap. Considering the uncertainty over a possible trade market for Chuck Clark, first-round pick Kyle Hamilton’s versatility and the Ravens’ willingness to play three or more safeties — not to mention the overall depth at the position — it’s hard to know how many spots DeCosta will reserve for safeties.

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Marcus Williams, Hamilton and Clark, if he stays, are sure things. But how many others will make the 53-man roster, and who? Geno Stone took a step forward in his second season in Baltimore and has the third-most 2021 special teams snaps among returning Ravens. Tony Jefferson impressed as a late-season addition and was a nuisance in coverage for quarterback Lamar Jackson in minicamp. And Ar’Darius Washington, who missed minicamp with an injury, was promising enough as a rookie to make last year’s initial roster.

If a final spot comes down to special teams ability, Stone would likely be the favorite. If veteran leadership is the deciding factor, Jefferson would have the upper hand. And if the Ravens can’t afford to part with either, they’ll keep both.

Preseason, Week 1

TITANS@RAVENS

Thursday, Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

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Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM


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