Tuesday marks the beginning of the Organized Team Activity (OTA) season for the Ravens. They will hold voluntary midweek camps for their veterans and rookies in each of the next three weeks, leading up to a mandatory full-squad minicamp in mid-June.
These behind-the-scenes sessions were lost during the work stoppage of 2011. The players can take them or leave them, but the coaches love them, using them to work on fundamentals and introduce changes to the playbook.
As usual, there will be plenty to monitor as the Ravens go through their paces at Owings Mills. Here are five questions to bear in mind:
Does Ray Rices absence matter?
The running back is withholding his services while his agent seeks a longterm contract extension, and in a sense, its no big deal. The Ravens arent worried if Rice is staying in shape and they know he understands the offense. But hes an emerging leader and the team would like him in camp, focused strictly on the upcoming season. In the meantime, backs such as rookie Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen and Damien Berry will run with the starters, a huge opportunity for them.
Is Jimmy Smith ready to start?
One of the better training camp duels will be between Smith, the teams 2011 first-round draft pick, and Cary Williams, one of 2011s biggest surprises, for the starting cornerback spot opposite Lardarius Webb. Williams is coming back from hip surgery, and Smith played better and better during 2011 after overcoming an ankle injury. My money is on Smith to emerge.
How is the chemistry between quarterback Joe Flacco and new receiver Jacoby Jones?
The cap-strapped Ravens didnt shell out 7 million for Jones just to watch him run back kicks. They want him to contribute offensively as the No. 3 receiver, become a factor as a playmaking alternative to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Its what they tried to do with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans, with marginal success at best. Theyre hoping the younger (27) Jones clicks better with Flacco.
Whats happening at left guard?
The one vacancy on the offensive line has generated a lot of headlines and speculation. After initially trying to fill it with a veteran (Evan Mathis), the Ravens have decided that one of their young guys can get the job done. The candidates are Jah Reid, Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski. The starting job is there for the taking. May the best man win.
Hows the transition of the defensive front-seven going?
The unit has sustained major losses since the end of last season with Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding leaving via free agency and Terrell Suggs going down with an Achilles injury. Thats three new starters out of seven, quite a bit of change. The pressure is on linebackers Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw, and linemen Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee. Do they rise to the occasion?