With all passes for both training camp and the July 31 stadium practice claimed in under 24 hours, there’s no shortage of fan excitement as the Ravens ramp up preparations for the 2021 season this week.
But with that enthusiasm comes great expectations for a franchise that’s won 25 regular-season games over the last two years. The Ravens will not only be aiming to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but a deeper January run is in order after back-to-back exits in the divisional round. In the eyes of many, it will be Super Bowl or bust as a talented roster becomes more and more expensive.
Ahead of the start of training camp this week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2021 Ravens every day:
Projected depth chart entering training camp:
LEFT TACKLE – Ronnie Stanley, Tyre Phillips, Andre Smith
LEFT GUARD – Ben Cleveland, Ben Powers
CENTER – Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari, Trystan Colon, Greg Mancz
RIGHT GUARD – Kevin Zeitler, Ben Bredeson, Michael Schofield
RIGHT TACKLE – Alejandro Villanueva, Adrian Ealy, Foster Sarell, Ja’Wuan James (injured)
Why to be impressed: Even with the season-ending injury to Stanley and plenty of lineup shuffling, the offensive line helped the Ravens become the first team in NFL history to rush for over 3,000 yards in a second straight season. Bozeman will transition to center after starting every game at left guard for a second straight campaign, a pillar of stability for an offensive line that experienced plenty of changes last year. Stanley appeared on his way to another Pro Bowl-caliber year before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury on Nov. 1. Despite grading 32nd among 80 qualified guards by Pro Football Focus in 2020, Zeitler graded 12th or better in five of the six previous years and should provide the Ravens the steady replacement for Marshal Yanda that they sorely lacked last season. Villanueva is transitioning to right tackle after protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside for years in Pittsburgh, but the two-time Pro Bowl selection has been consistently solid in his career and should offer a pretty high floor replacing Orlando Brown Jr., who was traded to Kansas City in April.
Why to be concerned: Stanley enters training camp on the active physically unable to perform list after head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged last month that he wouldn’t be on the field for the start of summer workouts. That doesn’t mean Stanley won’t be ready for Week 1, but the 2016 first-round pick returning to pre-injury form after multiple ankle surgeries is critical, especially with the Ravens having awarded him a lucrative contract extension days before the injury. After allowing pressure on a league-best 21.7% of passing snaps in 2019, the offensive line’s 34.8% pressure rate was 25th in the NFL last season, according to PFF. Bozeman looked the part at center during spring workouts, but that move leaves a question mark at left guard, the one spot on the offensive line that wasn’t disrupted last season. Villanueva could step in at left tackle if Stanley were to miss extensive time in 2021, but Baltimore needs to identify a dependable swing tackle, especially with the former Steeler turning 33 in September.
Big question: Who will secure the starting left guard job in 2021?
The void left behind by the retiring Yanda at right guard was felt throughout the 2020 season, a big reason why the Ravens spent meaningful free-agent dollars on Zeitler. A year later, they’ll hope to find a long-term answer at left guard among a collection of recent mid-round picks. It’s no secret that Baltimore would prefer Cleveland to win the starting job after selecting the Georgia product in the third round of this year’s draft, but you never know how quickly a rookie will adjust to a higher level of competition and expectations. Both Powers and Phillips remain in the mix at left guard after mixed results at best for both at right guard last season, so this will be one of the more important position battles to track this summer.
Prediction: Even with the uncertainty at left guard and with Stanley’s health, the Ravens will average more than 5.5 yards per carry for a third straight season, continuing their historic stretch of success running the football.