Monday, August 10, 2009

So far it's Justin Harper all over Marcus Smith in Ravens' training camp 2009

The Ravens wide receiving corps has certainly been under the microscope throughout the offseason and during training camp and it’s safe to say that the unit has received more scrutiny than all of the other team units combined.

I seem to recall similar attention directed towards the team’s offensive line last year and even the highlighted position of quarterback. Both positions answered their critics and I suspect that the wide receivers will do the same this year provided they can stay healthy.

Most close observers of the team expect the Ravens to carry five wide receivers. There’s just too much depth in the secondary and at linebacker to justify keeping a marginal at best wide receiver – one that can easily be replaced from the scrap heap of pass catchers that aren’t among the 1,696 players on active rosters league-wide.

Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams are locks for the 53 man squad barring a major injury. Kelley Washington has looked smooth and offers a special teams presence arguably unmatched by his corps mates. He looks like the fourth receiver among the group.

Battling for that fifth spot are Marcus Smith and Justin Harper.

Smith is a tough player and a converted running back. Those skills and his size and strength could translate to yards after catch (“YAC”). The problem is Smith can’t catch. He seldom makes a tough catch and often drops relatively easy ones.

Harper on the other hand has been the best homerun hitter in camp. He has size (6’3”), uses his body to box out defenders and he has deceptive speed. Just ask a few of the Ravens corners.
Harper needs to develop consistency but he’s been far more of a pass catching threat during camp than Smith. It really isn’t even close.

Now Ravens’ scouts are quick to point out that Smith is a tough player and brings it on special teams. But don’t the Ravens have plenty of guys that are good, tough, fast athletes who can strengthen Jerry Rosburg’s unit? The roster is loaded with those kinds of players.

What the Ravens have very little of are receivers who can make plays in the passing game and so far, Harper is that guy and he’s clearly that guy when measured against Smith.

Earlier during the 2009 summer camp, John Harbaugh made it clear that a player’s salary would not dictate his position on the team’s depth chart. Similarly we can only hope that a player’s draft position has no bearing on whether or not they make the final 53 man roster.

At this point the 2008 7th round pick Harper is far more deserving than Smith, a 2008 fourth rounder.

We’ll see if this continues when the games begin on Thursday.


Anonymous said...

Despite what Harbaugh says, no way the team cuts a DeCosta 4th round pick in only his 2nd year. Same goes for David Hale. They will both take spots from more deserving players.

Harryos29 said...

harry o 29 august 10th
..From what I've seen: and read, Justin Harper must make the team, if he stays healthy. Also, from what I hear and read, the Team will not make a Block Buster Trade for a big time Wide receiver. So, Coach Harbaugh must be ready to start the season with the players currently in Camp. He has no minor league to dip into like the Team up the street. and If he did.. he would want better results!

OL coach said...

actually, watching Hale out to say he's one of the most improved Ravens. He looks like Birks' backup. He's had a strong camp at the Center spot.

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between keepin a Decosta 7th round receiver versus a Decosta 4th round receiver? Won't they just keep the best player? Do you really think the team would keep an inferior player because he's a higher pick over a better player who was a lower choice? don't you think the organization wants to win games. What you claim they'll do is akin to tanking. And, assuming you know who the more deserving players are (in contrast to Smith and Hale), who are they? Share your wisdom with us....who would they keep over Hale and Smith in the 53?

Anonymous said...


The Ravens have long had a philosophy of not cutting 5th round or higher draft picks before giving them a chance to play. You can count on one hand the number of such picks let go in their 1st or 2nd year. When they really stink, they find a way to put them on IR.

Several wide receivers are probably more productive than Marcus Smith at this point, namely Harper and Kelley Washington. Somebody is odd man out barring injury, and it won't be Smith. For OL, if you assume Gaither, Grubbs, Birk, Yanda, Chester, Oher, and Cousins are locks, there's probably only one spot left. Count on it being Hale regardless if he's the best one remaining. Let's just watch the preseason and see if he's still a sieve as he was last year. One of our QBs might get hurt while he's out there.

BTW, with the logjam in the secondary, Zbikowski might be another draft pick who takes a spot over a more deserving player. With Ladarius Webb really playing more of a roving/blitzing safety than a CB, I don't see how they can keep Zbikowski. He's basically the 5th safety (maybe 6th behind Derrick Martin), and you don't need five safeties. Someone surprising is going to have to go (maybe Rolle because of Webb's versatility at CB?) because it won't be Tom.

Anonymous said...

Considering that Smith seems to be dropping more passes than he's catching, why not go with Wheelwright?

Anonymous said...

Several issues regarding the Ravens secondary. 1. Webb has not played any safety at all during camp. He's been lining up exclusively at corner, mostly outside with the twos or sometimes inside at nickel with the ones. Don't know how many practices Anonymous has been at but Webb's playing corner, not safety. I'm of the opinion that Rolle won't play for the Ravens (he seems destined for pup or ir) so the five corners will be 31, 41, 24, 21, and 30. that leaves four safeties, 20,26, 43, and 28. Last year the Ravens kept 11 DBS. This year they likely keep nine. I don't see much of a logjam back there. As far as Zbikowksi (sp?) goes, he's probably the best (other than 51) core teams player on the team. he was second in tackles and i can't see him going anywhere. Rosburg uses him on virtually every team.

as far as receivers go, why not keep six? we've kept six in the past. Since we'll likely only keep 8 ol, we should conisdser keeping an extra, young wo. The problem with harper versus smith is that, by all accounts, he does nothing on game day. Smith is one of the gunners and key cover guys. it's easier to make a case for him dressing than harper, who at best, is a fourth or fifth receiver at this point.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how we can keep 6 receivers. There is too much quality depth at DL, LB, and secondary. Maybe if they drop the 3rd QB or keep McClain as the only FB it would free a roster spot, but that just seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

i don't think we'll keep another fb. they'll use parmele as the swing guy or, if mcclain were to get hurt, they'd simply use the tight end as a move h-back. there are only a handful of teams in the league that keep two fullbacks on the active roster. half the teams keep six wo. plus, the only other camp fb we've got is cook from ole miss and he's awful, based on camp practices.

quality depth==a good thing. the fact we are stacked at dl, ol, secondary, lb, and rb is huge.

Anonymous said...

I was wrong. I admit it. I stated in an earlier comment that Marcus Smith didn't deserve a roster spot over Justin Harper. I believed in Tony and other media members, who said emphatically that Harper was the most impressive WR in camp. Watching Harper last night, though, you can easily see he is much too raw to expect any contributions this season. Against 2nd and 3rd string defenders, he dropped four passes, almost dropped the TD pass, and did not fight through defenders to be more competitive on three other balls that otherwise might have been catchable. The short guy Jayson Foster looked more polished (BTW, 5-7 WR???). Starting CBs and nickel CBs will eat Harper alive if he were to appear in a regular season game. Because of special teams play, Smith definitely deserves a roster spot over Harper, but with Smith's injury, it may unfortunately all be a moot point.

Oniell Cousins is a disaster. I've known it since last year but was hoping there was some truth to the positive things being written about him in camp. Right now, the Ravens quality depth at OL is razor thin. Ozzie and Vince are going to have to find a Willie Anderson-type veteran to step in and provide some usable depth. And I don't mean Chad Slaughter.

If Beck's injury is serious, it's a shame Michael Vick didn't wait a couple days.

Other than that and the mountain of penalties, the team looked great, though you wonder if the Redskins are just that bad. It's still good to see a slobberknocking of the Skins under any conditions and watch COMCAST Sportsnet scramble to find something positive to highlight.

Anonymous said...

Based on last night's performance, if Harper has it all over Smith, then the Ravens better start looking for some help at the WR position, because Harper is not the answer.

Don Banks said...

Encouraging to see the draft picks play so well. I thought Oher, Kruger, and Webb were all outstanding. Peerman and Ellerbe were flying down the field on teams. Don't know too much about Ellerbe but he looked like a very good player last night. He and McClain, and Phillips were FLYING around with that second d. And Nakamura and Zibikowski were right there with them.

Harper looked bad but i thought the Washington kid made a few nice plays. If he can continue like that, he looks like a solid 4th receiver.

In the end, my lasting impression was that we were a much deeper team than the Redskins, across the board.

I heard on the radio last night that our team has the second most starters in the league that have been drafted over the past seven years. The the very bottom of the league.

That's a credit to our FO.