Position battles 2014: Who wins out?
By John Langley
The Baltimore Ravens are a team that likely won’t have a lot of position battles heading into the 2014 training camp, but there will be some key battles, whether it be for a starting job or reserve role, that will catch the eyes of fans throughout the camp. Runningback, wide receiver, right tackle, inside linebacker, and nickel corner are a few positions to keep an eye on for battles.
For the most part, the Ravens roster is fairly set, with veterans and up-and-coming players making their mark to complete a solid roster capable of playoff contention, however, with the departures of players like Corey Graham, Michael Oher, and the impending suspension of Ray Rice, the battles that take place in training camp will determine how successful the Ravens are in 2014.
Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor vs. Keith Wenning
The Ravens typically keep two quarterbacks on roster throughout the season, and if last season was any indication, the team is toast if Joe Flacco goes down. Tyrod Taylor has yet to show that he is a viable candidate to be the backup quarterback, and it appears the patience of John Harbaugh has grown thin. Harbaugh has already stated that Taylor will have to earn his spot this season, and rookie Keith Wenning is more of a similar style to Flacco. The expectation is that this will be a battle until the very end of preseason, with the two getting fairly equal loads of work in the preseason games.
Expected winner: Keith Wenning
Wenning is more similar to Flacco and there wouldn’t need to be a major shift in the offensive philosophy to accommodate him. Unless Taylor polished his passing skills in the off-season, it is tough to imagine he makes this team as the primary backup.
Runningback: Justin Forsett vs. Lorenzo Taliaferro
Forsett ad Taliaferro bring different assets to the Ravens this upcoming season, and both should figure heavily into the plans early in the season with the impending suspension for Ray Rice. Forsett was signed in the off-season to a one-year contract and should at least make the team out of the preseason, but the extent of his role is to be determined. Taliaferro adds a dynamic to the corps that wasn’t present last season with his blocking ability, meaning he will likely be the third-down back throughout the season.
The one question that remains is whether or not Taliaferro will face a short suspension for his arrest recently, and if this does become the case, expect the Ravens to carry just Forsett and Pierce heading into the season with Taliaferro coming off suspension after what will likely be just a game, if at all.
Expected winner: Taliaferro
Taliaferro adds more to the team than Forsett, but Forsett will remain on the roster until Rice returns to the team.
Wide Receiver: Jacoby Jones vs. Marlon Brown
In reality, this is a battle that will come down to alignment. In sets where Gary Kubiak wants Steve Smith in the slot, Jones will likely be called upon to line up on the outside with Torrey Smith lining up opposite of him. I sets where Steve Smith lines up on the outside, Brown will likely be called upon to line up in the slot and control the middle of the field. To put it simply, both receivers will play a good chunk and get opportunities to catch the ball, giving the Ravens good versatility at the position.
Expected winner: Both
This is tough to call a battle, but expect more time for Marlon Brown. However, both will play and get chances to contribute. Jones will be used primarily on special teams.
Right Tackle: Ricky Wagner vs. whoever
Ricky Wagner is going to get the first crack at solidifying the right tackle position, but there will be competition for it. Ryan Jensen has stepped in as a potential suitor for the position and the Ravens have consistently bee linked to free agent Eric Winston, whether that be rumor or fact. Rookie free agent James Hurst is another name to keep an eye on, but after suffering a broken leg last season, the Ravens may choose to place him on injured reserve and stash him away.
Wagner played one game at right tackle last season and had his struggles, but in his defense, he got throw into a tough situation with Michael Oher going down to injury in the game. With a year under his belt, Wagner could make it so Kelechi Osemele can stay at his left guard position.
Expected winner: Ricky Wagner
It is far too early to project a winner for this position, but for the sake of argument, lets say Wagner wins out here. Even with his relative inexperience, the offensive line would be better served keeping Osemele at guard and plugging someone in at right tackle, and the best option at this moment would be Wagner.
Inside Linebacker: CJ Mosley vs. Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown was used sparingly last season, mostly on third down, for his pass coverage and speed. Brown could make a big impact this season, but with the Ravens taking Mosley in the first round, it is tough to imagine Mosley being a simple rotation player next season. Mosley can do it all: tackle, coverage, run down ball-carriers, and most of all, lead. Brown can play the pass well, but some wonder whether or not he can consistently play strong against the run.
Expected winner: Mosley
Both will play. There is no doubt about that. However, Mosley adds more to the table right this moment, while Brown can add a lot of a rotation player. The most important factor about having two extremely talented inside linebackers is the future. The AFC North will not have fun dealing with a tandem of Brown and Mosley for the next ten years.
Nickel Corner: Asa Jackson vs. Chykie Brown
This is of the more interesting battle in training camp this season. Brown has more in-game experience than Jackson. However, Jackson has displayed an ability to make plays and track the ball in the air for big plays that would benefit the Ravens. With that being said, Jackson has yet to line up in the nickel in a regular season game, so there are questions as to whether or not he can make those plays in the regular season. Brown has shown he can cover, but the Ravens would like to see him make some plays with the ball in the air.
Expected winner: Asa Jackson
While Brown has the experience, Jackson has the play-making ability that coaches thrive for. They will continue to coach him up and hope it all comes together. He was drafted based on upside, and they will look for him to realize that potential this season.
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