With the Ravens at the halfway point of the preseason, the team is starting to take shape and fans have had a chance to see the first glimpses of what the 2014 season may have to offer. Steve Smith and C.J. Mosley have grabbed most of the headlines, but as with any year there are many players who could play in a key role in the Ravens returning to prominence.
Below are three offensive players that have had my attention from the start of training camp.
Gary Kubiak likes to use the fullback and the Ravens have one with a TON of potential in Kyle Juszczyk, the second year player out of Harvard. So far “Juice” has caught three passes for 28 yards and appears to be the biggest beneficiary of the switch to a new offense. Many people had very high hopes for Juszczyk when he was drafted and his development could be a huge factor for the Ravens moving forward.
Juszczyk’s versatility and improved blocking should prove to be a dynamic weapon for the Ravens. His receiving ability is such that by the end of the season, I think he will be looked at as more of a high volume second tight end, rather than the fullback. With depth behind starting tight end Dennis Pitta a potential problem, Juszczyk’s continued development in the passing game holds all the more importance.
The key to success for the new offense being installed by Gary Kubiak is, without question, the play of the offensive line. The play of the line last year was a season-killer. A repeat performance simply cannot happen in 2014.
So far in the early going, a highly scrutinized unit has faired decently. Things haven’t been perfect, but it is clear having a healthy Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda will do wonders.
The newcomer on the o-line under the most scrutiny is certainly second-year right tackle Rick Wagner. Head coach, John Harbaugh, named Wagner the starter at his position on Monday, bringing to a close a “competition” to replace Michael Oher that seemed to be Wagner’s to lose from the start. The only other player to be consistently mentioned as being in the conversation for the spot was the continually unimpressive Jah Reid.
The Ravens appear to love Wagner’s “coachability” and are putting a lot of trust in the former 2013 fifth round pick out of Wisconsin. Cross your fingers he holds up, as there doesn’t appear to be much depth behind him. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens pick up some depth with a late preseason waiver special, ala Bryant McKinnie in 2011.
This rookie running back out of Coastal Carolina has been fun to watch. Through the first two games, Taliaferro has 13 carries for 71 yards. While ball security has proven to be a bit of a problem, he is just the type of running back who could thrive in the Kubiak one-cut offensive scheme.
Thus far, I have been pretty happy with what I’ve seen from all of the running backs during the game action. Between Bernard Pierce, Taliaferro, and even Justin Forsett, the Ravens should be able to sustain some offensive production during the Rice suspension.
We’ll continue taking a look at these players and others the next few weeks heading into the opener against the Bengals.