2010 NFL Question Marks: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens' Ed Reed warms-up prior to his game against the Washington Redskins at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on August 13, 2009. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. First up is the Baltimore Ravens and their question marks surrounding their secondary.

After dismantling the Patriots in the postseason last year, Raven fans are more excited about the team’s Super Bowl hopes this season than I am about “Shark Week” every year. (I think it goes without saying that sharks are the greatest fish, human and/or breathing organism on the planet. I mean, they’re sharks.)

And who could blame the Baltimore faithful? Joe Flacco is heading into his third season (which is the year when things are supposed to really “click” for players), Ray Rice is on the verge of superstardom and the passing game added a legitimate No. 1 wideout this offseason thanks to Ozzie Newsome’s trade for Anquan Boldin.

But just like all 32 teams at this time of year, the Ravens have some concerns and most of theirs lie within the secondary.

First and foremost, Ed Reed isn’t healthy and that’s a huge problem. At 31, some note that he isn’t as physical as he was earlier in his career, but the guy can still cover ground with the best of them. His ability to read what formation an offense comes out in, bait the quarterback into making a poor throw and then actually make a play on the ball is unrivaled. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say he was the best coverage safety in the league last year, along with Arizona’s Adrian Wilson.

But again, he’s also hurt. The Ravens recently placed him on the active/Physically Unable to Perform list and he’s a candidate to miss the first six weeks of the season as he continues to battle a hip injury. He missed four games last year and the Ravens still made the playoffs, but playing without him isn’t something the team wants to make a habit of.

The good news is that Tom Zbikowski is Reed’s replacement. The former Notre Dame’s two biggest contributions to the team is his versatility and his toughness. He also provides outstanding depth for a secondary that simply cannot stay healthy and if he winds up starting the first six games for Reed this season, he could wind up making a significant impact.

Thanks to Zbikowski, Reeds’ injury is less of a concern than the growing problem the Ravens currently have at cornerback. Head coach John Harbaugh said in mid-June that Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb (an underrated player who turned in a nice season last year) won’t be 100% early in the year as both defensive backs continue to recover from ACL injuries. Washington was already placed on the same PUP list as Reed, so obviously the Ravens are being cautious with his recovery.

Injuries aside, Washington didn’t play particularly well last season and Domonique Foxworth struggled early on after signing a huge contract in the offseason. Granted, the Ravens’ pass-rush wasn’t up to snuff either (they produced the second lowest sack totals in franchise history), but the secondary was routinely beat early in the year.

It’s fair to note that Foxworth did play better during the second half and if both Washington and Webb can return to full health, then the Ravens’ secondary is going to be just fine. Plus, let’s keep in mind that a defensive backfield is only as good as its pass rush, so it would be nice if Terrell Suggs returned to form, too.

Given the concerns that other teams are facing right now, the Ravens’ secondary question marks are rather tame. But this team needs to stay healthy at the safety and cornerback position if the Ravens are going to live up to the expectations that some have set for them (which includes a possible Super Bowl appearance).

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