AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

CLEVELAND -- John Harbaugh's jaw actually dropped on the final play. Elvis Dumervil described it as "magical." Will Hill almost threw up from the exhaustion and excitement of it all.

What had been billed as one of the least attractive matchups in the history of "Monday Night Football" actually turned into one of its most memorable and thrilling finishes. The Baltimore Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns 33-27 by Brent Urban blocking the potential winning field goal and Hill returning it 66 yards for a touchdown as time expired.

Those across the nation who tuned in to watch two teams with a combined .250 win percentage were rewarded with an unbelievable ending at 11:40 p.m. ET. How unbelievable? This was the second game in NFL history in which a team won with a "walk-off" blocked field goal return for a touchdown and the first time that has happened in three decades, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"One of the greatest football games probably you're ever going to see, in terms of excitement," coach Harbaugh said.

Will this propel the Ravens (4-7) into the playoffs? Highly unlikely. Can this help them avoid their first losing season under Harbaugh? Probably not.

But this victory, especially in this fashion, shows how this team has refused to give up on Harbaugh. Back in 2007, the season spiraled out of control for Baltimore, and it cost Brian Billick his job. This season, the Ravens have lost key starters to injuries (quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, linebacker Terrell Suggs and running back Justin Forsett) and they've lost a game on an official's error.

Still, Baltimore has found a way to stay in every game this season, which is a testament to the effort Harbaugh demands from his players. All 11 of the Ravens' games have been decided by eight points or fewer, which extends their NFL record.

"My favorite shirt that Harbs brought out was [one that read], 'Faith and Guts,'" Hill said. "That’s all we have right now -- faith and guts -- and to continue and go out and fight and try and be the best Ravens team we can be."

This had all the makings of another gut-wrenching loss for the Ravens. Hill was beaten on third-string quarterback Austin Davis' game-tying 42-yard touchdown pass, and Matt Schaub gave the Browns a chance to win the game with an interception with 50 seconds remaining.

But Urban got his left arm on the field goal attempt in his first NFL game, and Hill scored his third career touchdown. Even on a Ravens team that had blocked a punt or kick in five straight games, many players were floored by this reversal of fortune.

"I think it would be hard-pressed to find anyone in that stadium who was not shocked at that moment," kicker Justin Tucker said. "I am kind of speechless."

This was far from a classic game. There was plenty of sloppy football, which is to be expected from two teams with the third-worst combined record (5-15) for a MNF game. There were thousands of empty seats for the journeyman quarterback battle between Schaub and Josh McCown.

But this matchup certainly delivered a classic ending. It was the sixth blocked field goal return for a touchdown in the NFL in the past five seasons and the first this season.

There was also some controversy. Replays showed Anthony Levine lining up in the neutral zone, and some believe Hill stepped out of bounds.

The lasting image for the Ravens, however, was safety Kendrick Lewis going crazy right in Harbaugh's face and yelling, "We never quit! We never quit! We're never going to quit!"

"It reminded me of Winston Churchill. Didn’t he say something along those lines?" Harbaugh said. "Just an incredible game. I’m so proud of the guys."

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Joe Flacco's decision-making Sunday was just as baffling as a perennial playoff team falling to 1-5.

Flacco threw two of the most unsightly interceptions of his career against the NFL's second-worst defense, and the Baltimore Ravens paid for what he aptly described as "stupid mistakes." Both turnovers were converted into field goals, and those six points proved to be the difference in a 25-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

"It all starts with me not making those mistakes," Flacco said. "We can’t afford to do that right now. We have to go out there and play fundamental football, take care of the football, and when the plays present themselves, we’ve got to make them. We weren’t able to do that. I didn’t play smart, and we didn’t make the plays here and there to get us going.”

Joe FlaccoAP Photo/Ben MargotJoe Flacco's seven interceptions this season are tied for fourth-most in the league.

How smart Flacco plays is often the biggest barometer of the Ravens' success:

  • Baltimore is 46-9 (.836) when Flacco doesn't throw an interception.
  • The Ravens are 4-22, including playoffs, (.153) when Flacco is picked off multiple times.
  • Since 2013, Flacco has thrown 29 interceptions in losses (19 games) and 12 interceptions in wins (19 games).

It doesn't take a mathematical wizard such as backup guard John Urschel to see how the Ravens' fortunes are tied to Flacco's turnovers.

Asked how much Flacco's interceptions hurt the Ravens on Sunday, coach John Harbaugh said, "What do you want me to say? What’s the answer to that question? They hurt us a lot. OK, I mean, I can’t put a percentage on it. They hurt us a lot. Turnovers are bad.”

Flacco's first interception came with the Ravens trailing 13-3 in the second quarter. He tried to force a pass between two defenders just 3 yards down the field on a third-and-4 play.

“I saw [the defenders]," Flacco said. "I thought we could sneak the ball in for the first down, but obviously, I couldn’t.”

His second turnover was perhaps the worst throw of Flacco's eight-year NFL career. He threw a 50-yard pass up for grabs, and Kenneth Acker caught it with no Ravens player close to him.

"I was looking to hit the shot over the top," Flacco said. "I was hoping to buy time on the play, and it got to the point where I didn’t see anyone open, so I was just trying to throw it away. I didn’t see anyone down the field, but it ended up being a really dumb play.”

Flacco was picked off twice against a 49ers defense that ranked 30th against the pass and had three interceptions in the first five games.

Although Flacco likely wouldn't acknowledge this, his mistakes could be the result of pressing to make plays. His defense is giving up 27 points per game (seventh-most in the NFL), and he only has one receiver (Steve Smith) who consistently gets open.

Flacco's seven interceptions this season are tied for the fourth-most in the league. Peyton Manning (10 interceptions), Matthew Stafford (nine) and Kirk Cousins (eight) are the only QBs with more.

Of the 10 quarterbacks who have thrown more than five interceptions this season, just two of them (Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick) have winning records.

"It’s not good when you don’t win football games. It doesn’t feel good," Flacco said. "The thing is we’re out there and going through it, and we haven’t been good enough to win these games. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we know we just need to get better. That’s all we can do is put our head down and continue to try and get better. Just go out there and win a football game. We just haven’t found a way to do that yet.”

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe is set to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns after his first full practice in four weeks.

Monroe suffered a concussion in the first drive of the season opener and hasn't played since. He has missed nine games in the last two seasons for the Ravens after only sitting out three games in four-plus seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Eugene MonroeDavid Richard/AP PhotoRavens tackle Eugene Monroe returned to practice Wednesday.

"You can't really control being injured," Monroe said. "I had some things happen that are just unfortunate, both last year and this year. I'm healthy now and preparing for this game on Sunday. That's all that matters."

Monroe dealt with a concussion while in Jacksonville and missed one game. He said he felt great at Wednesday's practice, where he wore a darkened visor to help with the sensitivity to sunlight.

James Hurst, who was the lowest-rated left tackle by Pro Football Focus, had filled in for Monroe this season.

"[I'm] anxious, but I'm just going to take care of business as usual," Monroe said.

Ravens injury report

Did not participate: WR Steve Smith (back), TE Crockett Gillmore (calf), DE Chris Canty (calf), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) and WR Breshad Perriman (knee)

Limited participation: G Marshal Yanda (ankle)

Full participation: OT Eugene Monroe (concussion)

The Baltimore Ravens didn't look like a top-10 team in their season-opening, 19-13 loss at Denver, and the voters on ESPN's NFL Power Rankings certainly agreed.

The Ravens dropped four spots to No. 12, which is familiar territory for them. Last season, Baltimore ranked 12th or 13th in 11 of the 18 weeks of voting.

This wasn't even close to being the biggest fall in the Week 2 rankings. The Indianapolis Colts plummeted seven spots to No. 11. The Ravens and Colts were among the four teams that fell out of the top 10. The Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 13) and Philadelphia Eagles (No. 15) are the others.

The Ravens remain the second-highest ranked team in the AFC North. While the Cincinnati Bengals moved past Baltimore to No. 8, and the Steelers dropped below the Ravens at No. 13.

Baltimore has an excellent chance to even out its record this week against the Oakland Raiders, who are No. 31. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ranked lower than the Raiders by ESPN.

Maxx WilliamsAP Photo/Gail BurtonTight end Maxx Williams should be available to play in the Ravens' season opener at Denver.

The buzz surrounding 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams continues as the Baltimore Ravens tight end was named to Mel Kiper Jr.'s projected 2015 all-rookie teamInsider.

Williams, the first tight end selected in the draft, very likely will be the top rookie at his position, and he'll help fill the void left by Owen Daniels going to the Denver Broncos in free agency and Dennis Pitta remaining on the physically unable to perform list. He has great hands and has a knack for making plays (see the fourth down-and-20 conversion in the preseason opener).

History, though, says expectations should be tempered. This isn't just for Williams, but for all of the rookie tight ends, including Clive Walford (Raiders), Tyler Kroft (Bengals), Blake Bell (49ers) and MyCole Pruitt (Vikings).

In the last 10 seasons, there were just three rookie tight ends who caught more than 50 passes in their first season: John Carlson (2008), Jermaine Gresham (2010) and Tim Wright (2013). There were seven with over 500 yards receiving and eight with over four touchdown catches.

So, what should be the realistic goals for Williams? Based on the track record of rookie tight ends, 40 catches and 400 yards would be a very solid season.

While rookie wide receivers have been making more of an immediate impact recently, tight ends have been slower to develop in the NFL. They're being asked to block like an offensive lineman and run routes like a wide receiver.

The Ravens would be ecstatic if Williams made a bigger impact from the start. Baltimore traded second- and fifth-round picks to Arizona to move up in the second round to take Williams.

Still, the physicality of the NFL is going to be the biggest hurdle for Williams. He just turned 21 in April -- he's the youngest player on the Ravens by seven months -- and he'll likely need a full year in the Ravens' offseason conditioning program to get his body ready for the rigors of the league.

Williams has missed time this offseason because of a tweaked hamstring, an eye injury and a heat-related issue. He's currently been wearing a red, non-contact red jersey in practice, but coach John Harbaugh said it's precautionary and he expects Williams to be ready for the regular-season opener in Denver.

The Ravens haven't relied much on rookie tight ends throughout their history. Since 2001, only six rookie tight ends have even caught a pass for Baltimore.

Todd Heap, who caught the most passes by a tight end in franchise history, had a modest 16 receptions for 206 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. He was the understudy to Shannon Sharpe in 2001.

This will probably be a similar role for Williams. Even though Williams is the most natural pass-catcher among the Ravens' tight ends, Crockett Gillmore will be the starter because he's the most complete tight end.

But, given Pitta's uncertain future, Williams should develop into one of Joe Flacco's top targets for many years to come.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons by simply winning 10 games, but quarterback Joe Flacco believes the bar has been raised for this year's Ravens team.

“You might have some level of comfort as a fan if we’re on the verge of 10 wins, but I have a really tough time feeling good about that,” Flacco said in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. “I think it’s [gotten us in the playoffs] most of the years for us, but we want a handful more. I think we have the team to do it too. So I’d be a little bit disappointed if that’s all we came away with.”

Teams used to only need to focus on getting to double-digit wins in order to make the postseason. The Ravens, who have reached the playoffs in six of the last seven years, won't be satisfied with simply qualifying for the postseason this year.

In February, owner Steve Bisciotti noted that the only blemish for the team recently is not winning the AFC North on a more regular basis. In coach John Harbaugh's seven seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens have won the AFC North title twice (2011 and 2012).

"There’s a reason why Joe Flacco has more away-game wins in the playoffs than any other quarterback in history, because we keep sending his butt out there on the road," Bisciotti said.

Since Flacco became the starting quarterback in 2008, the Ravens have played 12 of their 14 playoff games on the road. That's the result of clinching more wild-card berths than division titles.

What's the magic number of victories to win the division? In Harbaugh's seven seasons in Baltimore, the AFC North champion has captured 11 wins five times.

“I don’t think we can rely on only winning 10 games and getting in. I think you want to at least get to that 11 number,” Flacco said. “When you talk about winning the division, you really want to at least get to 12-4 in order to have that happen. And even at that, it usually comes down to the last two games. It always manages to come down to that regular-season game with playoff implications on the line.”

More wins means more division titles, and more division titles means an easier path to another Super Bowl title.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Nose tackle Brandon Williams first showed off his freakish athleticism on video when he filmed himself walking on his hands at the Senior Bowl a couple of years ago. The 335-pound starting lineman from the Baltimore Ravens took it another level this week, when a 15-second clip of Williams dancing to Steve Aoki's "Boneless" went viral on social media.

Williams busted out some moves in an impromptu dance party inside the Ravens' locker room before a training camp practice. While the video included linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive end Lawrence Guy, Williams was the one who stole the show with a performance that seemed to blend hip hop with a weird form of exercise. The fact he was able to do so in full pads made it even more impressive.

"It was the dog days of training camp, some music came on and you start getting hyped," Williams said. "You got to make it fun and you got to love what you do."

Williams said he knew it was being filmed by teammate Chris Canty, and it was going to get posted on social media. He didn't expect this type of response.

The video has been shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram more than 50,000 times. The Rockettes' official Twitter account retweeted Williams:

"I was watching the Rockettes since was I little kid on Christmas," Williams said. "So, I was like 'wow' when they tweeted me."

Williams said he doesn't have a name for the dance and is open for suggestions.

"I never knew me dancing and having fun around the locker room with Suggs and Lawrence Guy would be so crazy," Williams said.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- During Sunday's training camp practice, Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley rushed to the line of scrimmage where he collided with rookie running back Buck Allen and wrapped him up before bringing him to the ground.

It's a play that Mosley made about 100 times last season. The only difference now is all eyes are on his surgically repaired left wrist.

The good news for the Ravens is Mosley showed no hesitation in the first full-contact practices of camp over the weekend.

C.J. MosleyPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesThe Ravens are banking on linebacker C.J. Mosley to improve in his second pro season.

"So far, everything is going smooth," Mosley said. "The timing of the injury -- everything is healing at the right time. I'm protecting it, but still going all out. So, everything is going well."

A first-round pick from a year ago, Mosley led all NFL first-year players in tackles and finished second to Rams tackle Aaron Donald for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He became the first Ravens player to reach the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.

His performance is more remarkable considering he played six games with a broken wrist last season. For the record, he played the most snaps of any Ravens player last season, sitting out just 15 defensive plays in the regular season.

"I feel 100 percent," Mosley said. "I have all the confidence I can have with it. It's healed now, so I don't have any excuses."

The challenge for Mosley has been maintaining his upper-body strength. He hasn't been able to lift as much weight as he has been able to in the past because his wrist was in a cast for three months.

Mosley, though, isn't known for engaging linemen and shedding blocks. He has a good knack for slipping past blockers to make the tackle, so his game isn't totally reliant on power.

"The good thing [is] I maintained my weight, if anything," Mosley said. "But like I said, [I was] just working back into it with my wrist and everything as far as staying on the field and lifting weights. I'm going to be smart about it, but I'm definitely trying to maintain weight."

There are high expectations for Mosley after a stellar rookie season. Known for his intelligence and instincts, Mosley was a force all over the field. He was the only NFL player last season with at least 125 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.

"We're looking for C.J. to improve," coach John Harbaugh said. "Wherever you set the bar the year before, it's important to maintain a level head and improve and get better. If you're getting better every day, you certainly should get better between Year 1 and Year 2. I know sometimes guys who have [a] great Year 1 don't have [a] great Year Two -- don't follow it up -- but that should never be the case. If your head is screwed on the right way, you should have a better Year 2, and I believe C.J.'s head is screwed on the right way."

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The largest and fiercest competition on the Baltimore Ravens' roster is at wide receiver. The Ravens are carrying 12 wide receivers right now, and only half are expected to make it when rosters are cut down to 53 players Sept. 5.

It's a battle among some of the youngest players on the team. Outside of Steve Smith, none of the other receivers are older than 26.

Kamar AikenBrad Barr/USA TODAY SportsKamar Aiken, who caught three touchdowns last season for Baltimore, was impressive Saturday during training camp among a large group of Ravens receivers.

Kamar Aiken and Jeremy Butler separated themselves from the others during Saturday's practice. Both took advantage of increased reps due to the absences of Breshad Perriman (knee) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed).

Aiken made difficult grabs on two Matt Schaub passes that sailed behind him while running across the middle. Butler made another one-handed reception (the second straight day he's done so), and he pulled in a nice sideline catch from Schaub.

"There have been some tremendous plays out there each and every day," Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. "There’s really some tremendous competition outside of Steve [Smith], and everybody will be given a position -- for most of these guys -- to have a chance to work with Joe [Flacco]. We’re moving people around, and those guys continue to move forward and have good days, and they get another opportunity, and we just see how it all unfolds as we move through camp and the preseason games.”

The Ravens' receiving group is composed of one Pro Bowl player (Smith), two rookie draft picks (Perriman and Darren Waller), two returning backups (Brown and Michael Campanaro), two veterans who previously played elsewhere in the league (Aiken and Aldrick Robinson), two undrafted rookies (DeAndre Carter and Daniel Brown), one first-year player coming off injured reserve (Butler) and two converted receivers (Tom Nelson was a safety and Trent Steelman was a college quarterback).

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Steve Smith Sr. and coach John Harbaugh have talked about reducing the wide receiver's snaps to keep him fresher throughout the Baltimore Ravens' regular season.

He's 36 years old. He's entering his 15th season. And his numbers declined in the second half of last season.

Cutting the amount of time Smith is on the field makes sense in theory, but ...

"I think it's going to be hard for both of us to do that," Smith said Friday.


"Because we're both competitors and we both want to win," Smith added.

In his first season with the Ravens, Smith was one of the most valuable players on the team. In the Ravens' 10 wins, he averaged 79.1 yards receiving and scored five touchdowns. In Baltimore's six losses, he averaged 45.6 yards and was held to one touchdown.

Steve SmithTommy Gilligan/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsRavens receiver Steve Smith isn't worried about his stats dipping in the second half of last season -- he just wants to get out and play to win.

But his productivity dipped in the last eight games, when he managed 390 yards (53rd in the league). Still, Smith finished as the Ravens' leader in receptions (79) and receiving yards (1,065).

"Steve and I have talked about how many reps he's going to play," Harbaugh said. "We'll probably know by the end of preseason how we feel about that, but sometimes you get to a game and you kind of need a guy in the end to make a play. I'm really hoping that we have enough guys who we like who we can roll receivers through there and play all those guys. I think we're deep, and if we turn out to be deep -- like we hope we are -- then all those guys will play.”

In fact, Smith can see his role expanding for the Ravens. Baltimore hasn't replaced Jacoby Jones at returner, and Smith has fielded punts the first two days of training camp.

He was the Carolina Panthers' primary punt returner for four seasons, averaging 9.3 yards per return and scoring four touchdowns. But he hasn't run back a punt in a regular-season game since 2010.

"My returning days is based on blocking. That's what took me off of it," Smith said. "The blocking wasn't where it used to be. It's kind of like going to a job that can't pay but they want you to work."

Smith said he "absolutely" wants to return punts for the Ravens, and Harbaugh is fine with that because it's an opportunity to put one of his best players in space. Harbaugh, though, doesn't want to gas Smith, who needs to play offense after returning the punt.

"We'll figure it out," Smith said. "I think I will do it at least once or twice. I'm excited about doing it."

Smith doesn't act his age in camp. He's constantly moving as soon as he gets on the field. In between plays, Smith is off to the side where he is stretching, running or talking to someone.

It's going to be hard to slow him down because he practices and plays like a man on a mission.

"I've always been about winning," Smith said. "If we're not winning, I'm not happy. It pisses me off. That's what drives me."

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh delivered the biggest compliment to Marshal Yanda in what has been an offseason of high praise for the right guard.

"He's just a special human being and a special player," Harbaugh said before adding, "and he's a Hall of Famer some day."

This shows the amount of respect Harbaugh has for Yanda. Whether Yanda actually receives a bust in Canton, Ohio, will likely be determined by how he plays over the next five to six seasons.

Marshal YandaPatrick Semansky/APMarshal Yanda is not only the best offensive lineman on the Ravens' roster, he's also one of the best in the league.

In looking at the Hall of Fame voting in recent years, guards need to reach double-digit Pro Bowls to get into the conversation. Since 2007, five guards have been voted into the Hall of Fame and four of them have gone to 10 or more Pro Bowls (Bruce Matthews, Randall McDaniel, Larry Allen and Will Shields). The only exception was in 2010, when Russ Grimm was inducted despite only four Pro Bowl appearances.

Yanda has been named to four Pro Bowls, but he's playing as well as he's ever played at the age of 30.

Grantland recently called Yanda as the best offensive lineman in the game. Pro Football Focus ranked Yanda as the fifth-best player in the NFL.

"Obviously, I take pride in working hard and being the best player I can be, but I'm more worried about the football team and us as an offensive line and us as an offense more than that," Yanda said. "You just go out here and do your job every day to the best of your ability, and you try to be great. I'm not going to lie; I come out here, and I want to be great in everything I do. So, you just work your tail off and you hope that happens."

Yanda is known as a dominating run blocker. There have been times when he has shoved three defenders on one play to single-handedly open a hole. He's also a top-notch pass protector, allowing four sacks over his past three seasons.

"This is at the highest level, and he's one of the best guys out there in the league," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "The physicality that he brings to the game, it's kind of weird to say, because that's all playing offensive line is, but he obviously just takes it up to another level."

Yanda grew up on an Iowa pig farm, and his straggly beard makes him look more like a member of "Duck Dynasty" than one of the better offensive lines in the league. Still, he's gone from being the 10th offensive lineman drafted in 2007 to becoming one of the best in the league.

"He's a special player; he's a leader, a hard-working guy," running back Justin Forsett said. "He just goes about his business the way a pro is supposed to, and [I'm] fortunate enough to run behind him. I've played behind a guy named Walter Jones, and [Jones'] work ethic was very similar to [Yanda]."

Jones, incidentally, reached the Hall of Fame in 2014.

The Baltimore Ravens aren't expected to pursue Reggie Wayne even though there's a report linking the team to the former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver on Monday.

Team officials don't consider wide receiver to be a pressing need entering training camp, and they don't want to push down younger receivers such as Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown or Michael Campanaro on the depth chart.

Plus, Wayne doesn't seem to be a good fit at this stage of his career. He is going to turn 37 during the season, and the Ravens already have a 36-year-old Steve Smith. Wayne has had three surgeries (anterior cruciate ligament, triceps and knee scope) over the past two seasons. And he wouldn't add any speed to a team that has enough possession receivers.

It's easy to see why the Ravens would be a popular candidate for Wayne. General manager Ozzie Newsome has a strong history with acquiring veteran receivers such as Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans and Steve Smith. He's also signed former Colts castoffs such as Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley.

But it just doesn't make much sense for the Ravens to add Wayne, whose 64 catches last season were his fewest in a full season since 2003.

The Ravens are also not expected to show interest in wide receiver-returner Ace Sanders, who was cut on Friday. Even though Baltimore doesn't have an established returner to replace Jacoby Jones, Sanders wasn't an impressive running back kicks for the Jaguars. In his two NFL seasons, Sanders ranked 35th in the league with a 7.1-yard punt return average.

NFL Nation reporter Jamison Hensley assesses which Ravens rookies could earn a starting berth this season.

[+] EnlargeBreshad Perriman, Baltimore Ravens
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Ravens will need someone to step in as the deep threat this season, and that receiver could be rookie Breshad Perriman.

Why Breshad Perriman could start: The biggest reason Perriman will be given a chance to start immediately is he's the only Baltimore wide receiver outside of Steve Smith Sr. who can score a touchdown any time he touches the ball. There's a possibility the Ravens will begin the season by starting Kamar Aiken or Marlon Brown. But this would happen only if the Ravens don't want to put too much pressure on Perriman, or if the first-round pick doesn't progress as expected this summer. The Ravens used the No. 26 overall pick on Perriman because they needed someone who can replace Torrey Smith's role as a deep threat. At Central Florida last season, Perriman averaged 20.9 yards per catch and 33.1 yards per touchdown. He caught a touchdown in seven straight games. His size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and speed (4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day) make him a potential No. 1 receiver. There are concerns about Perriman's hands and his consistency. Still, his speed is the perfect complement to QB Joe Flacco's strong arm. It would be extremely surprising if Perriman doesn't find a spot in the starting lineup at some point this season.

Why Maxx Williams could start: Williams' role in the Ravens' offense should come with an asterisk. It all depends on the health of tight end Dennis Pitta. If Pitta can't play this season or is limited because of issues with his hip, Williams becomes a bigger factor in Baltimore's passing attack. The Ravens traded up in the second round in order to get Williams, the draft's best insurance policy at tight end. Beyond Pitta, the only experienced tight end on the roster is Crockett Gillmore, who had 10 catches as a rookie last season. It was essential for the Ravens to get a dependable pass-catching tight end like Williams. Even if Pitta does play at some point this season, there will be a role for Williams. He is a rising playmaker who can stretch the field more than any other Baltimore tight end. Last season, 77.7 percent of his receptions at Minnesota (28 of 36) resulted in a first down or a touchdown. Williams led all college tight ends with nine catches of 25 yards or more. The Ravens have relied on second-round picks to make an impact immediately in recent years. Since 2011, three second-rounders (wide receiver Torrey Smith, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele) started eight-plus games as rookies. There's a chance Williams will add his name to that list in 2015.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome suggested to Steve Smith that the wide receiver should take some time in the offseason before deciding whether he wanted to play a 15th NFL season.

In Smith's mind, there were no thoughts about walking away from the game.

"I left [the Ravens' facility] here knowing what my plans were, and my family knew what the plans were," he said.

At age 36, Smith shows how much he loves the game in everything he does. He attended the Ravens' first voluntary organized team activities when many veterans chose not to show up. He reported in excellent shape and made a couple of leaping catches, including a one-handed one, over the middle.

It takes a special player to last this long in the NFL and continue to perform at a high level. Only three players (Jerry Rice, Jimmy Smith and Joey Galloway) have topped 1,000 yards receiving in a season at 36 or older, and Steve Smith would become the first to accomplish this since 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information, if he can do so this season.

"I think age is a number," Smith said. "Right now, I feel good and I’m playing well, so I think 36 is good.”

One reason Smith has excelled for so long is his attitude and energy level. He's carried a chip on his shoulder throughout his career, whether it was because of his size (5-foot-9) or the fact he wasn't drafted until the third round.

Smith practices at a different intensity level than most players, and it took his Ravens teammates a year to adjust to that. Now, he's a tone-setter. Quarterback Joe Flacco said Smith's presence at OTAs pushes everyone to work hard.

"He’s one of the guys that everybody kind of looks at and says, ‘OK, how is Steve doing on this play?’ And they feed off of that and learn how to practice," Flacco said. "So, any time you can get guys out here of his nature, it does things for the whole team, just because all the young guys learn from it.”

Smith, who is 10 years older than any of the Ravens' other receivers, does have an endgame in mind. He is in the second year of a three-year contract with the Ravens, and it's possible he could retire after the 2016 season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesAt age 36, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith isn't worried about questions regarding his age.

All he knows is he's not going to compete with the longevity of a certain Hall of Fame receiver.

“Jerry Rice is, obviously, the greatest wide receiver to ever play, and I really don’t have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest," Smith said. "I have a lot of things on my ‘to do’ list that don’t have to do anything with football. So, I’m going to take it day by day, but I will not be playing until I’m 40.”

The challenge for Smith this season is consistency. Last season, he was among the top receivers in the NFL for the first eight games, totaling 675 yards receiving (seventh most in the NFL). He didn't sustain that level of productivity in the last eight games, putting up 390 yards (53rd in the league). Ravens coach John Harbaugh mentioned at the end of the season that the team might want to lessen Smith's snaps to save on his wear and tear.

Still, Smith led the Ravens in receiving with 1,065 yards, which was 298 more than any other player on the team.

"Yes, I’m 36, and I remember last year when I signed here [the media were not] expecting anything from a 35-year-old," Smith said. "Now, [the media have] to pick on me, because I’m 36. I’m just going to play football and practice. I think I look halfway decent. I think there are teams that probably [are] drafting wide receivers hoping that they can get a guy fresh out of a college [who is] able to put up 1,000 yards [like] I did at 35."

So, when did Smith start hearing questions about his age?

“Probably after the height questions stopped," he said.