John Harbaugh counting on youth to 'step up' at Ravens camp
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Despite losing several key players during the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens have reason to believe they're better than a year ago.
Squeezed by the salary cap, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome traded defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and failed to retain wide receiver Torrey Smith, linebacker Pernell McPhee and tight end Owen Daniels.
But Baltimore's offensive line remained intact, quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off his finest NFL season and the defensive backfield - a major problem in 2014 - is healthy and stocked with talent.
Now, if the rookies can work themselves into the mix during training camp, the Ravens will be poised for a return trip to the playoffs.
''I'm looking for the young guys to step up,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''We put our young guys in positions to compete for jobs.''
Here are some things the Ravens will focus on at training camp, which formally begins Thursday with the first full-team practice session:
BACKFIELD IN MOTION: One of last season's most significant concerns was a decimated secondary that lost six players to injury and employed a dozen different cornerbacks.
Starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb played in only two games together, and safety Matt Elam was a disappointment at safety in his second NFL season.
Smith and Webb are healthy again, Elam had an outstanding minicamp and free agent addition Kendrick Lewis had 84 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles in 16 games with Houston last season. Several others, including Will Hill and Asa Jackson, add depth that wasn't there a year ago.
''I feel like there are a bunch of guys that could be starters,'' defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. ''I think the competition is going to be very keen in the fall and training camp. I don't think anybody has a position locked down. If you are a No. 1, you better hold on to it, because there's a No. 2 right behind you.''
GOING DEEP: The competition to replace Smith as the team's top deep threat will be heated. The Ravens hope top draft pick Breshad Perriman can grab the job, which is a distinct possibility if he proves he can hold onto the football.
Several players who served supporting roles last season are ready to step up, including Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Michael Campanaro. Jeremy Butler, signed as a free agent in May 2014, was impressive in minicamp.
''I see it as extremely competitive,'' receivers coach Bobby Engram said. ''I think you've got a room full of guys, honestly, that can play in this league.''
TRUST IN TRESTMAN: After Gary Kubiak left to coach the Denver Broncos, Marc Trestman was hired to be Baltimore's fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons.
He follows Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell and Kubiak.
Trestman intends to stick with much of Kubiak's system, for good reason: The Ravens set franchise marks in 2014 for points (409) and yards (5,838). In addition, Flacco finished with a career-best 3,986 yards passing and was sacked only 19 times, compared to 48 in 2013.
''For the most part, we're running pretty similar things,'' Flacco said last month.
Trestman, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears, noted: ''Obviously, the work ethic and the culture (are) already there.''
FRONT LINE: Filling the void left by the trade of Ngata to Detroit will be difficult.
''You can't replace a guy like that, a future Hall of Famer, one of the best to ever do it at that position,'' Ravens end Chris Canty said.
Timmy Jernigan did a decent job while Ngata served a four-game suspension last season. Jernigan hopes to work alongside third-year tackle Brandon Williams, who started both postseason games, in the middle of the line.
''I have no doubt that (Jernigan) is going to give it his best shot and he's going to do well,'' Harbaugh said. ''The same thing with Brandon Williams. He's proven himself.''
Third-round pick Carl Davis (Iowa) should also see considerable action.
TIGHT END OPENINGS: With Daniels gone and Dennis Pitta's future in question because of a hip injury, the Ravens are looking for a few good men at tight end.
Crockett Gillmore had 10 catches last season, and the Ravens drafted Maxx Williams in an effort to give Flacco another viable option.
Williams caught 61 passes for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons with Minnesota.
''My goals are just go out there and play, try to improve and try to earn my spot on the team,'' Williams said.
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