Early impressions from Ravens training camp


With the Ravens beginning their first full week of training camp after Sunday’s day off, here are five early observations from the first few practices of the summer in Owings Mills.
1. Even if the Ravens are satisfied with Bryant McKinnie’s weight and conditioning, this story isn’t going to go away as quickly as the tackle would like.
His claim that he hurt his back in a fall may explain why his chiropractor contacted the team to let them know he wouldn’t be reporting to training camp on time, but coach John Harbaugh’s comments earlier this week suggest the Ravens are having a difficult time believing the explanation. While McKinnie may have felt embarrassed — especially knowing how closely his conditioning is being scrutinized — failing to talk to the organization himself makes it look like he’s hiding more than a minor back injury.
Plenty of speculation exists regarding McKinnie’s financial problems and how he mysteriously went silent on Twitter a week ago, but you have to wonder how much the Ravens are willing to put up with considering they were already uneasy about his conditioning earlier this offseason. Harbaugh’s hardline stance about Michael Oher being the left tackle until further notice is a loud message that McKinnie is on shaky footing with the organization.
Unlike the way in which Ed Reed’s arrival at camp immediately squashed the discussion that buzzed around the All-Pro safety for weeks, McKinnie won’t just waltz back into camp with all essentially being forgotten. What will help the 32-year-old, however, is the lack of a known commodity at the right tackle position when Oher is on the left side.
Even so, McKinnie has plenty to prove before the Ravens can entrust him with the left tackle job for the second year in a row.
2. It’s remarkable how much better the cornerback situation is from a year ago at this time.
More attention has been paid to outside linebacker and the battles at defensive end and on the offensive line, but the most entertaining competition of the preseason will be between Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith for the starting cornerback job opposite Lardarius Webb. Unlike most competitions where you’re typically desperate to see one player emerge as a viable starter, this is a win-win situation where both players are capable of holding down starting jobs in the NFL.
Smith may have gained a slight upper hand during organized team activities as Williams continued to recovery from offseason hip surgery, but the 2011 first-round pick was dinged up during Saturday’s practice to potentially even the playing field once again. It’s also important to remember Williams played with a torn labrum last season, which is remarkable to think about when you consider how critical hip movement is to the back pedal and changing directions.
While the Ravens certainly envisioned Smith as a starter when they made him their top selection two Aprils ago, they really cannot go wrong with either player as the starter, and the other will still receive plenty of playing time. Williams and Smith will again line up at the cornerback spots with Webb sliding inside to the nickel position to match up with slot receivers in passing situations.
Special teams ace Corey Graham has also been very impressive in coverage and looks like a solid bet to be the team’s dime back, which would push Danny Gorrer down the depth chart after he looked solid in limited opportunities last season. It’s quite a difference from a year ago when the Ravens were depending on banged-up veterans such as Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr to play significant roles before Webb and Williams emerged as starters out of training camp.
3. Don’t sleep on Albert McClellan as the Ravens sort out their outside linebacker situation.
While it’s assumed that Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw will line up as the starting outside backers against the Cincinnati Bengals to open the regular season, McClellan has received plenty of reps with the defense over the first few days of practice. His versatility to line up as a defensive end as well as play multiple linebacker positions makes him a valuable asset, and that’s not even taking into account that the 26-year-old led the team in special teams tackles last season.
The start to McClellan’s career hasn’t been dramatically different from that of inside linebacker Jameel McClain, though the former spent his first professional season on the practice squad. McClain also went undrafted and shined on special teams before eventually carving out a bigger defensive role for himself.
Upshaw clearly possesses more upside, but the rookie’s inexperience and need to get leaner may open the door for more opportunities for McClellan, who surprised everyone with his strong play filling in at inside linebacker when Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were sidelined against the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night.
4. There isn’t a wide receiver with better hands on the team than Tandon Doss.
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  1. Luke, great coverage as usual.I have been really fascinated by the kicking competition where it seems as though Justin Tucker is giving Billy Cundiff all he can handle. I would love to see Tucker win the job because I have always been convinced that 2010 the 2010 season was an abberation and that Cundiff is nothing more than a journeyman kicker with 75% accuracy. Assuming Tucker continues to perform as he did last week do you think Coach Harbaugh has the guts to go with a rookie kicker on a potential Super Bowl team? I have a feeling that no matter what Tucker does, Cundiff will have to fall flat on his face in order for him to make the team. What’s your view? Thanks
    (L.J. – Thanks, Joe. I’m working under the belief that this is a competition, but it wasn’t a pure 50-50 coin flip as far as stacking the odds. I do believe Tucker can win the competition if he overwhelmingly performs better than Cundiff or the veteran shows signs of struggling, but if it’s essentially equal — as it was last week — I think Cundiff holds onto the job. The tough part is not knowing how a rookie kicker will respond to the bright lights and pressures of kicking in the NFL, which you can’t replicate in training camp practices or preseason games. I’m intrigued by this battle, and I must admit I’ve been impressed with Tucker so far.)

  2. After last season and the debacle in NE Cundiff is toast here just like Lee Evans, providing Tucker is the real deal.

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