The Baltimore Ravens open 2020 NFL training camp on July 28 at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
What's the next step for Lamar Jackson after a unanimous NFL MVP season?
Become a more complete passer. Let's be clear, this is a much different storyline than last year at this time, when the biggest question facing the Ravens was Jackson's arm. He responded with a season that few could have imagined. Jackson led the NFL in touchdown passes (36) and Total QBR (81.8) while ranking eighth in completion rate (66.1%). It's easy to forget that Jackson is still the youngest starting quarterback in the AFC North at 23 years old. His game will continue to grow.
This year, there needs to be two areas of focus for Jackson: more efficient downfield passing and more involvement of the wide receivers. Last season, Jackson ranked 30th in completing 37.7% of his deep throws (passes that traveled at least 10 yards in the air) outside the numbers. He also relied less on his wide receivers (104 completions) than any other quarterback in the league, preferring to target his tight ends. Ravens coaches have talked this offseason about wanting Jackson to exploit defenses by throwing to different parts of the field. The challenge for Jackson is to accomplish this without spring offseason practices, where the foundation of last year's spectacular season was laid.
Who is facing the most pressure in this year's camp?
First-round pick Patrick Queen. The Ravens want the 28th overall pick to start at middle linebacker, which is a tough test considering the circumstances. Queen will line up in the heart of the defense without any offseason practices and without a tremendous amount of experience (his 16 career starts at LSU were the fewest by any defender selected in the first round of the 2020 draft). Defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale believes Queen can handle it after speaking with him in the virtual meetings. He sees Queen as a smart and driven player. "He's going to rise to this challenge," Martindale said. "Will it be perfect? No, but we don't expect that coming out as a rookie... It's just like I told him, ‘If you are going to make a mistake, make it a 100 miles-per-hour mistake.' We can live with that."
Where's the biggest competition?
The interior of the offensive line. Honestly, you can predict every starting job outside of the line with near certainty. How Baltimore will eventually line up in front of the reigning NFL MVP is its biggest personnel issue. The Ravens were dominant up front last season, but there are questions after right guard Marshal Yanda retired and center Matt Skura underwent major knee surgery.
These are the only guarantees: Ronnie Stanley will protect Jackson's blind side at left tackle, Orlando Brown Jr. will line up at right tackle and Bradley Bozeman will start somewhere on the interior. D.J. Fluker, a seven-year NFL starter, is the favorite to replace Yanda but he will be pressed by Ben Powers and rookies Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. At center, Skura is not expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp and will battle Patrick Mekari and Bozeman once he's healthy. If Bozeman ends up at center, that opens up his starting spot at left guard. Expect the Ravens to roll out a lot of different lineups this summer to find the right combination.
What will the workload look like in a crowded Ravens backfield?
This depends on the development of Dobbins. At the start of camp, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards will presumably sit atop the depth chart after helping the Ravens set the NFL's single-season rushing record. By the end of it, it wouldn't be surprising if Dobbins worked his way up to being the top backup to Ingram and began taking some of his touches to save the wear-and-tear on the 30-year-old back. Dobbins seems like the perfect fit for Baltimore, playing in a similar offensive system at Ohio State. But Dobbins would have to buck a long-standing trend. In John Harbaugh's 12 seasons in Baltimore, the only rookie running back to total more than 600 yards rushing was Edwards in 2018.
Is it Super Bowl or bust for the Ravens this season?
If the Ravens don't reach the Super Bowl this year, it would be a disappointment. Baltimore returns all but one starter on offense and upgraded its front seven, the weakest part of the defense. The Ravens are the betting favorites for every game this season. But Baltimore's prime window to win a championship is over the next two seasons, when it has Jackson under a cap-friendly deal. If Jackson continues to dazzle the league, the Ravens are going to have to reward him with a record-setting deal at some point.
The Ravens understand the difficulties of managing the cap when the quarterback takes up a huge chunk of it. Baltimore only reached the postseason twice in the six seasons after making Joe Flacco the highest-paid player in the NFL. Plus, consider this: Entering 2020, there have been eight instances of a quarterback playing a season with a contract that averages $30 million per season. Just three of them reached the playoffs in that season, and the best finish was a loss in the 2019 NFC Championship Game by Aaron Rodgers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It's certainly not all or nothing this season, but the clock is certainly ticking for the Ravens.