By Ronald Toothe
Ravens fans, before we dive into the meat and potatoes of this article, I’d first like to take a moment to express my thanks to Chris Schisler and my excitement in being here at the Purple and Black Nest.
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While all of us would’ve loved to continue growing the Ravens Flock community that we established at our old company, sometimes life doesn’t work out as you planned. Whether it’s in our professional lives or our personal lives, all we can do during our time on this floating rock in outer space is roll with the punches and embrace every new opportunity.
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The Ravens opened up their OTAs this week in force, with 80 players in attendance including former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. It’s clear that the team is highly focused on silencing the critics in 2021, and bringing another championship to Baltimore in the process.
The work truly starts now for the Ravens, and there’s bound to be plenty of storylines coming out of camp as we head into the Summer months. Many of those storylines will be in the form of positional battles for starting jobs, so let’s take a look at some of the key matchups fans should be keeping an eye on.
Left Guard: Ben Powers vs Ben Cleveland
Kicking things off is a battle of the big men to determine who will flank Ronnie Stanley on the left side of the offensive line.
At the end of last season, Ben Powers showed a lot of promise filling in after Stanley’s injury forced an offensive line reshuffle. The running game began to look even more like it did when it was smashing records in 2019, and Powers was a big part of that. Even given the massive human being who will be competing with him for the job, Powers will have every opportunity in camp to take the role as the incumbent.
Speaking of that massive human being, Ben Cleveland is a player that John Harbaugh has gone on record as saying was one of his favorites in this entire draft. A mean mauler with a physical stature only comparable to The Mountain in Game of Thrones, Cleveland spent his college career pushing defensive linemen around in the toughest conference in football at Georgia.
Now he has his shot to be a professional starter and do the same thing for Lamar Jackson and company, and the smart money would bank on him being the opening day starter for the Ravens.
Ravens Number 4 receiver/Number 2 slot: Devin Duvernay vs Tylan Wallace
This battle will likely stay the same whether the Ravens trade for Julio Jones or not, although the playing time that goes along with it will inevitably decrease in a pretty massive way.
Assuming the Ravens stick with who they have, Devin Duvernay will have stiff competition for a larger target share in this offense coming off his rookie year. His contributions in the return game were massive for Baltimore last year, finishing 9th in the league in kick return yards with a touchdown.
While that kind of production and potential assures he’ll have a role on the 2021 Ravens, it could also motivate the coaching staff to have him focus more exclusively on that role while giving their fourth-round draft pick the majority of the reps.
Tylan Wallace did a little bit of everything during his time as a member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but his skill set very much lends itself to that of a consistent slot receiver in the pros.
A scrappy competitor who runs crisp routes while displaying great body control, Wallace is just the type of receiver Lamar Jackson needs over the middle on those tough 3rd and 7 type scenarios late in ball games. He’s not the type of player who will break off 50-yard chunk plays consistently, but he’s more than capable of being an added security blanket for this offense.
Ravens Slot Corner: Tavon Young vs Shaun Wade
Tavon Young is coming off two straight season-ending injuries, but after signing the richest nickel corner contract in football just two years ago the Ravens will give Young every opportunity to maximize their investment in him. His talent is certainly undeniable, but the name of the game in 2021 for Tavon Young is not his ability, but his availability. As long as he can be out there on the field, he’ll likely be the clubhouse leader to take back his starting job.
Shaun Wade out of Ohio State would love nothing more than to usurp that position from Young though, as somebody who scouts thought would be an easy first-round selection heading into last season.
Wade had an up-and-down 2020. A combination of a turf toe injury and a switch to the outside corner position caused his stock to fall all the way into the fifth round. Make no mistake though, in his two seasons as the starting slot corner for the Buckeyes, Wade was the best player on the field more times than not. He has all the athletic potential in the world to translate that success to the next level. Tavon Young won’t be handed this job, and as his contract comes towards its end perhaps the Ravens would like to look to the future at the nickel.
Next Post: Nest Talk: Keep underselling the Ravens offense
As we head into the Summer months, more competitions are likely to take shape as the Ravens continue to build the 2021 team. These are just a few to really take note of as we progress through this week into the rest of the offseason team activities, and all three will be crucial to the success of the Ravens this year.
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