Ag­ing team needs some new stars to shine this year

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike Pre­ston

The Ravens need some new stars to emerge or their new sea­son could crash and burn like last year.

There is no need for a snap judg­ment af­ter one game, but there were some signs that indicate some of the team’s older stars might not re­turn to their pre­vi­ous lev­els, or even make it through the sea­son.

Pro Bowl per­form­ers such as re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. and out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs, who both re­cov­ered from Achilles in­juries in the off­sea­son, played in the Ravens’ 13-7 sea­son-open­ing win against the Buf­falo Bills but were hardly dom­i­nant.

Pro Bowl out­side line­backer Elvis Dumervil, who had off­sea­son foot surgery, didn’t play at all. Tight end Den­nis Pitta, who has missed most of the past two sea­sons with hip in­juries, took 56 of the team’s 68 of­fen­sive snaps — more than any other skill player ex­cept quar­ter­back Joe Flacco.

It’s go­ing to be tough for him to hold up at

that pace, and it cer­tainly won’t be as a run blocker, be­cause he got pushed around Sun­day.

The Ravens need some new stars. It’s time for the emer­gence of run­ning backs Ter­rance West (Tow­son Uni­ver­sity, North­west­ern High) and Ken­neth Dixon (cur­rently in­jured), lineback­ers Zachary Orr, Za’Dar­ius Smith and C.J. Mosley, wide re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man and tight end Maxx Wil­liams.

It’s the ideal time be­cause some of the veter­ans — Steve Smith, safety Eric Wed­dle and run­ning back Justin Forsett — are good men­tors. It’s easy to see in prac­tice or on the side­line dur­ing games.

Forsett talks about life lessons as much as the X’s and O’s. Smith not only puts in time with fel­low re­ceivers Per­ri­man, Chris Moore and Mike Wal­lace, he spends just as much with cor­ner­backs Jimmy Smith and Sha­reece Wright, work­ing on tech­nique. In train­ing camp, when Flacco com­pleted long passes against the de­fense, Wed­dle of­ten went to the side­line, ask­ing him for ideas, and then would go back and talk things over with mem­bers of the sec­ondary.

Un­like last sea­son, when the Ravens sec­ondary needed a GPS sys­tem to find its way, they have Wed­dle and de­fen­sive backs coach Les­lie Fra­zier giv­ing them di­rec­tion.

It’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how much some of the veter­ans have left. Steve Smith might end up be­ing Flacco’s No. 1 re­ceiver, but on Sun­day his tim­ing with the quar­ter­back was off. Suggs ap­pears to be in good shape, but he didn’t show his once-pow­er­ful ex­plo­sion com­ing off the edge as a pass rusher.

Pitta came up with some big catches against the Bills and fin­ished with three re­cep­tions for 39 yards, but re­peat­edly got jammed at­tempt­ing to run-block. His body can’t hold up un­der that stress ev­ery week.

That’s why the Ravens need a youth trans­fu­sion; they need new life in this fran­chise. They fi­nally got some big ver­ti­cal plays from speed­sters Per­ri­man and Wal­lace on Sun­day, but now they have to do it ev­ery week.

“That’s some­thing we have to keep chas­ing,” coach John Har­baugh said. “Those two plays were dif­fer­ences in the game. We don’t win the game with­out those two plays. We need more of those plays.”

Forsett is a solid run­ning back, but the fu­ture be­longs to West and Dixon. It’s hard to un­der­stand why Pitta took so many snaps when young back­ups Crock­ett Gill­more and Wil­liams com­bined for only 39.

Is Gill­more hurt? Is Wil­liams ever go­ing to be ready for prime time? Af­ter all, he was a sec­ond-round pick in 2015.

On Sun­day, the Bills at­tacked the Ravens’ out­side lineback­ers. The line, led by Bran­don Wil­liams and Timmy Jerni­gan, played well, and they could be­come fu­ture stars even though both need to get bet­ter as pass rush­ers.

With Suggs try­ing to re­gain his form, Za’Dar­ius Smith, Al­bert McClellan and Matthew Judon have to come up with big plays to make pres­sure in the pass­ing game. Mosley, a third-year player, fin­ished with two tack­les, only one unas­sisted, against Buf­falo. That’s al­most un­heard of for a mid­dle line­backer.

In Sun­day’s win, there were some no­table dif­fer­ences from last year’s team. The Ravens came up with enough big plays on of­fense to win and they have more over­all speed on de­fense. Wright and Jimmy Smith played the best game in re­cent years from a set of Ravens cor­ner­backs.

But those were the Bills. The Ravens won’t see much dif­fer­ence next week when they play Cleve­land, es­pe­cially on of­fense. The Browns didn’t have a drive of more than seven plays against Philadel­phia on Sun­day.

In­juries play a ma­jor part in ev­ery sea­son and the Ravens aren’t sure if their veter­ans can play at a high level again or hold up through an en­tire sea­son.

They need some of the young guys to be­gin per­form to their po­ten­tial. They need some new stars.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Ravens’ Justin Forsett is tack­led by three Buf­falo Bills de­fend­ers in the first quar­ter of Sun­day’s game.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ter­rance West is one of the young play­ers who could emerge as an im­por­tant tal­ent for the Ravens this sea­son.

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