Organized team activities are the first time when observations can be made about the upcoming season. These non-contact workouts can also prove to be a tone-setter for some players.
Marlon Brown's second season appeared to get derailed last spring when the normally sure-handed receiver made some surprising drops. That inconsistency spilled into training camp and the early part of the 2014 season.
Brown went from 49 catches and seven touchdowns as a rookie to 24 receptions and no touchdowns last season. How Brown fares this offseason could give an early indication in where he fits into a Ravens' wide receiver group that lost Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones but added first-round pick Breshad Perriman.
“It should be a big year for Marlon,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy we wanted to have more involved last year."
Brown said he doesn't feel like he was forgotten because he understood his starting job was going to Steve Smith last season. That still doesn't explain how Brown was ignored in the red zone. He didn't get a pass thrown his way inside the 20-yard line in 2014 after scoring seven red-zone touchdowns in 2013.
Brown's role might change in Marc Trestman's offense because he's a big target at 6 feet 5. Last season, Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, both of whom are 6 feet 3 or taller, were targeted 36 times in the red zone.
“Marlon, I see him out there, he’s really made improvements from last year. … He’s a big, broad-boned, talented guy," Harbaugh said. "I think he continues to improve as a receiver as far as the technical aspects of it, refining his skills a little bit.”
Here are five other Ravens' veterans who need to have strong offseasons:
SS Matt Elam: This shouldn't come as a surprise because Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome both publicly challenged Elam to improve. The Ravens' lack of confidence in Elam showed in free agency, when they used the little cap room they had on signing Kendrick Lewis to start alongside Will Hill at safety. It's a good sign that he dropped eight pounds this offseason. The key now is showing the Ravens that he deserves more playing time in 2015.
ILB Arthur Brown: Like Elam, he's a disappointing 2013 draft pick who regressed last season. Brown didn't play one defensive snap last season and fell behind undrafted linebackers Albert McClellan and Zachary Orr on the depth chart. He could get some valuable reps this spring depending on whether Daryl Smith shows up for the voluntary camps and C.J. Mosley (offseason wrist surgery) participates. This is a make-or-break year for Brown, who is on the roster bubble.
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro: He received some tough love as a rookie from running sprints with Harbaugh after an offseason arrest to watching his carries get reduced after a fumble in Pittsburgh. The Ravens then drafted Buck Allen in the fourth round, which likely got Taliaferro's attention. Coming off a season-ending foot injury, Taliaferro has to show improvement if he wants to be the primary backup to Justin Forsett.
OLB Courtney Upshaw: Conditioning has been a nagging issue for Upshaw, who has strong motivation heading into this offseason. He has a chance to cash in during a contract year if he can put up sack numbers like Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee did. But Upshaw has to beat out rookie Za'Darius Smith for that situational pass-rusher role.
WR Michael Campanaro: Harbaugh has subtly made the point that Campanaro has to prove he can stay healthy so the Ravens can count on him for a major role on the team. Campanaro showed flashes last season as a slot receiver in the regular season and as a returner in the preseason. The Ravens hope he can turn into their version of Julian Edelman, and a productive spring could put him on the right track.