The humid Maryland days of Summer are finally upon us and with it comes the real start of the 2009 season. On Friday, there will be hitting and lots of it as Baltimore hopes to build on its improbable run to the AFC Championship game this past January.
With all the work that’s expected to be put in to prepare, these are five questions that I hope will be answered at the camp’s conclusion in August.
1- How tough will Camp Harbaugh be the second time around?
When John Harbaugh arrived for his first camp his style of practice shook the franchise to it’s very core. It was a stark contrast to Brian Billick who believed that the players should save it for the field.
As a result you had plenty of injuries and private grumbling from the veterans. But it also put a different form of accountability that hadn’t been witnessed before. The team broke camp a stronger, more physical unit who stressed the fundamentals to win ballgames.
With Harbaugh now established as a team’s leader, will he have the foresight to push where he needs to and pull back where he should as well?
I wouldn’t expect too much variance from last season’s schedule as it served his team well landing them in the playoffs and one would assume that Coach Harbs is a year wiser.
2- Who’s the Kicker?
I don’t think most teams would be that concerned with who kicks the field goals but when you follow Matt Stover’s right leg it should be expected. Stover was not only one of the most popular players but one of the most prolific offensive weapons in the franchise’s history.
So the bright lights will be turned up on Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano as they battle to see who takes the position. There will be plenty for fans to scrutinize but whomever wins the job may still have someone to look over their shoulder as Harbaugh has been clear about having Stover on his speed dial if the youngsters wilt under the pressure.
3- Who hopes to give the Ravens a RETURN on their trust with the ball?
I tried for something clever. I failed. Yamon Figurs, the former incumbent was a disaster as the Kick/Punt man in 2008 where he was only able to bust 39 yards for his longest run. He had trouble with his concentration and his confidence soon collapsed.
That leaves a plethora of candidates; Chris Carr signed from the Titans has experience but isn’t a gamebreaker, Lardarius Webb, Tom Zbikowski, Ray Rice, Matt Lawrence, and perhaps even Ed Reed ae all in the mix. This area of their game needs a shot in the arm,
Anyone have Jermaine Lewis’ number?
4- Have the injured recovered?
Injuries to Kelly Gregg, Dawan Landry and Tavares Gooden on the defensive side of the ball will be important to note as these men find contact on Friday. All are expected to contribute in a big way this season.
Meanwhile, Demetrius Williams, Willis McGahee, and Marshall Yanda are important cogs for the offense. The early signs seem fine for Williams and McGahee but Yanda may begin the season on the PUP.
5- Who’s stepping up?
The obvious reference is at Wide Receiver.
If Derrick Mason truly has retired then who takes over his role as go-to guy. Mark Clayton should be first in line and its been noted that he is a similar type of player as Mason. If that’s the case he’ll need to replace Mason’s production. Demetrius Williams, appears to have bulked up and could finally be ready to become a reliable target. Marcus Smith received positive reviews out of OTA’s and Justin Harper had a few nice catches during today’s action. But, frankly none of that matters if you can’t get it done on Sundays.
There is opportunity here, who will grasp it?