They know the ropes now. The jitters are gone. When the Ravens rookies of 2013 return to training camp this coming summer, they will do so as veterans. Sure, they still have much to prove, but much more will be expected of them.
As Ozzie Newsome said at the end-of-season news conference, "Having guys grow and improve from the first year to the second year is all about us having a successful football team."
Coach John Harbaugh echoed that, saying, "The biggest improvement usually is between the first and second year. ... These guys have been through it now one time. They’re going to make major strides."
Newsome singled out defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson as one player who made a major leap forward this past year in his second season. So who moves the needle this coming season? Which of the 2013 rookies will take a decisive step forward in 2014?
Here are three candidates:
FB Kyle Juszczyk - Juszczyk, the fourth-round pick from Harvard, was limited to mostly special teams duty last season. But look for new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to find ways to utilize Juszczyk as a hybrid fullback/H-back in the Ravens offense. Plus, fullback Vonta Leach, who carries a $2.3 million cap figure, is a likely cap casualty, further opening the door for Juszczyk.
OT Rick Wagner - Both Ravens starting tackles from last season, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher, are set to become free agents. The Ravens are expected to bring back one but not both, leaving a probable opening at right tackle. Wagner this past season saw most of his action in jumbo packages as an extra lineman, but the Ravens have high hopes for their fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin.
DL Brandon Williams - The defensive line figures to have a big hole to fill with the expected free-agent departure of defensive end Arthur Jones. Nose tackle Terrence Cody is also a free agent and could be gone. Williams, a third-round pick out of Missouri Southern State, was hobbled early last season by a foot injury and then was inactive for six of the final eight games. But likely openings up front give him a great chance to see more action in 2014.