OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens open 2022 NFL training camp Wednesday at the Under Armour Performance Center. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
The biggest question: Can Lamar Jackson succeed with his current wide receiver group? The big focal point on offense is making sure Jackson has chemistry with his young and unproven targets. After trading away Marquise Brown, the Ravens don’t have a wide receiver who has played more than two seasons in the NFL. None of the dozen wide receivers on the roster have caught more than 38 passes from Jackson in their careers. Rashod Bateman is primed for a breakout season after flashing as a rookie last year, but the other top receivers -- Devin Duvernay, James Proche II and Tylan Wallace -- are question marks. For that reason, Baltimore could add a veteran receiver like Julio Jones, Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton or Cole Beasley. But the Ravens have shown they don’t need prolific wide receivers to succeed. When Baltimore went 14-2 in 2019, the Ravens had only one wide receiver with more than 350 yards receiving (Brown with 584).
The player with the most to prove: Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. He’s only played in one full game since signing a five-year, $98.75 million contract in October 2020. A left ankle injury has sidelined him for 28 of Baltimore’s past 29 games (including playoffs), raising questions as to whether he will ever return to his All-Pro form. If Stanley can bounce back, Jackson will have one of the best blind-side protectors, and the Ravens’ offensive line can become one of the league’s best. If Stanley struggles or misses significant time once again, Baltimore would be forced to replace him with a long-time right tackle (either Ja'Wuan James or Morgan Moses) and would need to think about investing in another left tackle next offseason. Stanley has said he won’t rush back like he did last season, which proved to be a mistake. When he does return -- which likely won’t be early in training camp -- the pressure will be on Stanley to prove he’s one of the top tackles in the game. He will start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
The most compelling position battle: Left guard. The job is certainly wide open. Four linemen are battling for this spot: Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers, Ben Cleveland or Patrick Mekari. Last season, Phillips, Powers and Cleveland all started games at left tackle. At this point, Phillips and Powers, who have combined for 32 career starts, are looking like the front-runners heading into camp. Cleveland, who started the last four games at left guard, still has a shot to win the job with a strong summer. But the Ravens could end up going with Mekari, the team’s most versatile blocker, who can start at any position on the line.
Fiercest fantasy-relevant battle: Running back. It’s more of a watch than a battle. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, Baltimore’s top two backs, didn’t practice this offseason after tearing ACLs last summer and will start camp on the physically unable to perform list. The Ravens are hopeful Dobbins and Edwards will be ready by the start of the regular season, but there are no guarantees they’ll be at full strength even if they suit up. Baltimore felt like it needed a contingency plan in the backfield with the the signing of veteran Mike Davis and the drafting of Tyler Badie. It could be a running back-by-committee early in the regular season until Dobbins and Edwards get back into their groove.
Camp prediction: The Ravens get out of training camp healthy. This is an extremely bold prediction considering last year was one of the team’s worst summers from an injury standpoint. From the start of camp to the start of the regular season, Baltimore had 13 key players sidelined for at least a week because of either injury or a positive COVID-19 test. There was a 19-day stretch in which the Ravens had five players suffer season-ending injuries, including their top three running backs. Baltimore isn't chalking it up to bad luck (although this team is due for a change of fortune). The Ravens are tweaking their practices by implementing more stretching during warm-ups and fewer reps during drills. It wouldn’t be surprising if Jackson and other star players sit out preseason games. The Ravens know this team can be a Super Bowl contender if it can avoid a run of injuries.