Going into this offseason following the first missed postseason since 2007, no one could make of how exactly the Ravens would respond. Would they address the offensive line through the draft & free agent signings? Would they take a high profile wide receiver to improve the offense? Would a new offensive coordinator come in? Are there more additional things to address? Or, would Ozzie just do as he seemed fit that would take care of what people aren’t looking at?
These questions did eventually get answered, but they took a backseat to the offseason troubles. Five players have been arrested for various incidents. The one that gathered the most media attention was of course Ray Rice’s alleged beating of his now wife. The video of the aftermath is what caused much of the national outrage. Long forgotten was everything else, especially about Rice himself.
Rice has been long seen as one of the nicest, friendliest guys on the Ravens’ squad. He never had an incident or arrest ever previously. He had spoken up with support for his old Rutger’s coach when he went through his own troubles. Also, don’t forget that Ray had been running an anti-bullying campaign through Howard County for years that even got airtime before Superbowl 47. ]Of course, these important pieces of information regarding his character didn’t fit the national narrative regarding his incident with his wife and were thus forgotten. He has been given a two game suspension without pay plus an additional fine for a third game.
But enough talk about arrests, let’s focus on the positives:
The Ravens got a new offensive coordinator this offseason when they hired former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who fills in Jim Caldwell’s spot as he left to be the head coach of the Lions. Kubiak has been known for his offensive attack that uses zone-blocking for rushing & the usage of many tight ends. Dennis Pitta was resigned for a multi-year deal and tight end Owen Daniels was signed as well. The Ravens did draft a tight end this year as well, and now have quite a strength in that position a year after having quite a weakness in that department.
[Side note: this is a reoccurring issue with different positions that seems to be solved unconventionally by Ozzie Newsome every time. Not too long ago the defensive back depth looked very weak, and now it’s looking very strong and hard to keep every player the teams wants.]
The offensive line has gotten much stronger after just one offseason despite very little changes. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has been given time to adjust to the play system that our team runs after being traded near midseason last year. The team let Michael Oher test the market after never living up to his potential here. The team’s brass has put all of it’s faith (at least for now) in former 5th round pick Rick Wagner to take over the right tackle spot. Other than that, the other positions are very strong, with Kelechi Osemele securing the left guard position, Marshall Yanda anchoring the right guard position with his Pro Bowl skillset, and new center Jeremy Zuttah is expected to do well. They have some strong depth that can play a part in case Wagner falters, or they could sign Eric Winston or someone else likely to be cut in the preseason.
Last year, the team’s player personnel was criticized for allowing Anquan Boldin to leave without sufficiently replacing him. Last year in a blog, I wrote along the lines of: “before our wide receiver squad was seen by many as a position of strength, but now is considered weak only after Boldin left.” Well, the same critics got their wish when the Ravens signed Steve Smith (mere hours after he was available). Despite being only 5’9 and skinny, his intangibles have made him a top wide receiver for many years. It’s the stuff that can’t be measured which has led him time and again to be successful. I think of him as like Derrick Mason was when he was on the team, who provides clutch catches, confidence for the quarterback & leadership to the young wide receivers. Along with the tight ends and stronger offensive line, the Ravens have potential top 10 passing attack.
Although the defense played better last year than in 2012, it still got a couple of improvements. The draft brought in two players who may be mainstays to the team for years to come.
The Ravens got a potential successor to Ray Lewis in middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. A common denominator of Ozzie’s success has been selecting great players, mostly on defense, that are available in the latter half of the draft. So when the 17th pick came around, he selected the leader of the top ranked Alabama defense to lead the charges here. You can easily connect the dots on his choice: Ozzie went to school at Alabama -> he likes picking players from Alabama -> Alabama had the top ranked defense -> the middle linebacker is the QB of the defense -> we had a void for a middle linebacker. It’s astounding how he found such a perfect pick at #17, considering his tendency to take the best player available is what other teams have been trying to put into practice as well. He will likely start alongside Daryl Smith throughout the season.
On the back end of the defense, there is still a void since Ed Reed had left, but it may be filled. James Ihedigbo went to the Lions for a big payday and the Ravens have reshuffled the defensive back position hopefully for the better. Matt Elam was taken last year with the 32nd pick and played out of the position the whole season. We had two strong safeties starting last year and that likely led to some teams (such as the Packers) to come back late in games. Now that Elam is back in his natural SS position, the question is who takes the free safety position? The Ravens signed free agent Darian Stewart from Oakland and drafted Terrence Brooks in the 3rd round. Brooks looks to have the potential to fill Reed’s void, but Stewart has the early lead in training camp so far. We’ll see after preseason whether the Ravens will in fact start two rookies on defense for the first time ever.
The first preseason game of the season will be against the 49ers on August 7th. Following the game, the 49ers will stay during the week for some practice scrimmages with the Ravens. Can you believe football is in less than 2 weeks?!
Until then, we still have baseball and the Orioles have been very good so far. They led the AL East by three games and have just finished a dominating win over the Mariners. They have been on what’s considered as their toughest stretch in the whole season, which is a 10 game road trip to the top three AL West teams. Many sports media outlets are considering the Oakland Athletics & Los Angeles Angels as the top two teams in the MLB, and the O’s just went 3-3 against them back to back. The difficulty is increased when you consider that the games are starting at 10:05pm our time.
This could be the O’s year after all. Until then, keep on watching and go O’s & Ravens!
P.S. This broke as soon as I finished: the Ravens signed former Giants safety Will Hill, who is suspended for the first 6 games of the season.