Baltimore Ravens training camp storylines: Squint hard and you can see a Super Bowl team

The Baltimore Ravens enter training camp with plenty of questions -- starting with Lamar Jackson's future with the team. But they are also loaded with talent.

2021 was an unspeakably bad — and weird — year for the Baltimore Ravens. But the Ravens, who begin their 27th training camp Wednesday, have reason for optimism in 2021.

They open camp pretty healthy with what, on paper, is a loaded roster. And if a couple of breaks go their way that went the other a year ago, perhaps there will be jewelry given out again in Charm City. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here are the top five Ravens storylines as the heavy lifting gets underway in Owings Mills, Md.

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5 storylines for Baltimore Ravens training camp

The Ravens finished 2021 in a totally unfamiliar place: the AFC North cellar. It was their first last-place finish since 2007 and the first with John Harbaugh as head coach.

But there’s reason to expect a bounceback in 2022. And not just because divisional rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland have questions at quarterback.

Simply put, their luck cannot get any worse. The Ravens finished the 2021 season with 17 players on the injured reserve. Currently, they have none. That’s a good start. But it’s just the start.

What’s next in the Lamar Jackson adventure?

Few stories in the NFL are shrouded in more intrigue than the Lamar Jackson contract saga. Rarely does a quarterback of his ability reach the final year of a rookie deal. But that’s exactly what will happen if Jackson and the Ravens don’t hammer out an extension in the next couple of months. Jackson is owed $23 million guaranteed in 2022, which is far below his market value.

Jackson told USA Today earlier this month that he’d “hopefully” have a deal signed by the start of training camp, but that hasn’t materialized. Regardless, Jackson was so excited to start the season, he reported to training camp early. So no holdout here.

Two complicating factors to getting a deal done:

  • Jackson doesn’t have an agent and represents himself
  • He is coming off the worst season of his career

Injuries kept him out of five games and impacted his performance in many of the games in which he played. Jackson had career-worst numbers in interceptions (13) and interception rate (3.4%) and was 23rd among qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating (87).

The Ravens have Super Bowl expectations in 2022. But to get there, they’ll need Jackson to play like a superstar. If he does, there will be no price the Ravens won’t pay to keep him.

Running back situation given J.K. Dobbins’ health

Social media provided a bit of late-offseason entertainment last week when running back J.K. Dobbins clapped back at NFL Network’s report that called into question his availability for Week 1.

Who to believe?

Dobbins will be a full year removed from ACL surgery when the regular season begins, so it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for him to be available to play in the opener. But it’s also true that the Ravens are going to play it safe with the former second-round pick.

Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie and was projected to have a monster sophomore season. After his injury, the Ravens had to limp along (pun intended) with a cast of has-beens.

So, if given a choice between having Dobbins available in September and having him available in January, they’ll surely take the latter. Don’t be surprised if they sit him down for August and see what they have in Mike Davis, who’s still on the right side of 30. There’s also uncertainty over Gus Edwards’ availability for the start of camp, so the Ravens might not have a real sense of their running back group for weeks.

A new-look Ravens secondary

The Ravens’ defense was unrecognizable in 2021. They ranked last in yards per play allowed (6.0) and second-to-last in yards per pass (7.6). Certainly, a toothless pass rush played a big part.

But not as big as the personnel they were rolling out in the defensive backfield late in the season. In a must-win Week 17 game against the Bengals, Joe Burrow roasted the likes of Anthony Averett, Kevon Seymour, Tavon Young, Brandon Stephens, and Chuck Clark for 525 yards and 41 points.

Eric DeCosta acknowledged the obvious: That group wasn’t nearly good enough. So in the following months, he signed Marcus Williams and Kyle Fuller and drafted Kyle Hamilton 14th overall. That new blood and the healthy return of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters gives Baltimore one of the most talented secondaries in the league.

Is Rashod Bateman a capable WR1?

That secondary might feast on a relatively underwhelming set of pass catchers during camp. The Ravens determined that it was in their best interests to move on from Hollywood Brown, trading him on draft day to the Cardinals for a first-round pick that Baltimore, after moving down two more spots, used on center Tyler Linderbaum.

That decision might have improved locker room chemistry, but it also removed the Ravens’ most targeted wide receiver in 2021 from the rotation. That left the Ravens with a frighteningly inexperienced group of wide receivers. No one in that position group is older than 25.

Was dumping Brown reckless? Or a sign of Baltimore’s confidence in Rashod Bateman, a first-round pick in 2021 who caught 46 passes for 515 yards and one touchdown in 12 games as a rookie.

The Ravens drafted Bateman to be their WR1. It’s now time to see if he’s up to the task.

“That’s the role that I’ve always wanted to be in,” Bateman said during spring ball. “I’m excited to take that role.”

Can Ronnie Stanley, Ja’Wuan James finally stay healthy?

The Linderbaum pick might be the final piece of what should be a much-improved offensive line. But that’s assuming that Ronnie Stanley and Ja’Wuan James not only stay healthy but get their game back in a place it was before their terrible injury luck began.

As a reminder, Stanley — the Ravens’ would-be starting left tackle — has appeared in exactly one game since signing a five-year, $112.8 million contract in October of 2020. He suffered a major ankle injury a few days later after the deal was consummated and has needed multiple surgeries that have kept him out of action for the last 21 months.

But Stanley has been downright dependable compared to James, who has appeared in just three games since the start of the 2019 season. He has suffered significant knee and Achilles injuries in the time since and opted out of the entire 2020 campaign over COVID-19 concerns.

Is that bad luck finally behind them? The Ravens need it to be. Either Stanley or James is in line to start at left tackle for the Ravens in Week 1 — health permitting.

Adam Beasley is the NFL Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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