Joe Flacco and the re-vamped Baltimore Ravens are looking to repeat the success they had in 2012, and reach the big stage again at Super Bowl XLVIII.
Ravens’ fans have a lot of new names and faces to learn, as the team underwent a drastic roster makeover during the offseason. Aside from losing a plethora of defensive stars, including MLB Ray Lewis to retirement and S Ed Reed to the Houston Texans, the Ravens are also lost one of its best possession receivers, Anquan Boldin, to the San Francisco 49ers.
Ravens’ General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office had a busy offseason, rectifying many of the team’s needs. When looking at the offseason acquisitions, there’s an obvious emphasis seen on fixing the defensive struggles that plagued them in 2012.
With the loss of Ray Lewis, the Ravens made a push to sign veteran linebacker, Daryl Smith. Smith has been in the league for a decade. While playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars he racked 678 tackles, becoming the team’s all-time leader in tackles. He is currently on a fast-tack to becoming the starter for the season opener.
The signings of DL Chris Canty, OLB Elvis Dumervil and DE Marcus Spears, continue to add a veteran presence that will be able to get good penetration and compliment the already tenured Ravens, like Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
With the addition of Canty, Ngata is able to move to nose tackle, which is a spot he personally prefers. Suggs also benefits from the Ravens’ offseason moves with the addition of Dumerville to play opposite of the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year. The two should produce a dangerous tandem, which is aimed to keep opposing quarterbacks running for their lives.
Another bright spot for Suggs is due to his offseason dedication. Ravens’ linebackers coach, Ted Monachino is quoted saying this is the best shape he’s seen Suggs in. This is even more noteworthy considering Monachino coached Suggs throughout his time in college at Arizona State.
The Ravens continued to address its defensive needs in the 2013 NFL Draft. Out of the team’s ten-picks, six were defensive players.
Two of the biggest picks for the defense that can have an immediate impact are SS Matt Elam and DT Brandon Williams. Elam, who played for the Florida Gators, is known for his big hits and leadership capabilities. Williams, from Missouri Southern State Lions, has imposing size and strength to combat the run.
The offensive side of the ball for the Ravens is also marred with a lot of speculations.
There’s no question the one of the biggest spotlights coming into the 2013 season is on Super Bowl MVP Quarterback, Joe Flacco. Flacco, who signed a historic contract in the offseason, is still under close watch around the sports world. Flacco has lost two of his favorite targets from the previous year. Beginning with losing Boldin to free agency; and more recently, losing Dennis Pitta to a season-ending hip injury.
Flacco’s current weapons are Torrey Smith, and Jacoby Jones. The third wide receiver spot is still up in the air. The team is looking to fill the spot with an in-house source. Eyes are currently on Tandon Doss, Laquan Williams and Deonte Thompson. At the tight end spot, the Ravens hope Ed Dickson will be able to fill the void left by Dennis Pitta. Also, as a safety blanket, the Ravens picked up veteran TE Visanthe Schiancoe.
The silver lining for the offense is in the form of the help coming out of the back field, which could help alleviate some pressure on Flacco and the receiving corps.
Running backs, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are projected to provide the offensive unit with a nice one-two punch, anchored by All-Pro Full Back, Vonta Leach. Leach, who was released by the Ravens only to be re-signed a few weeks later, offers crushing blows that can pave the way for the two backs that may have an increased work load if the passing game has trouble getting in gear.
Being that one of the biggest question marks lies with the offense, and the wide receivers, don’t be surprised if the Ravens go into free agency late if none of the other options pan out. This is something that they’ve done in the past on numerous occasions. The Ravens have signed WR like T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Lee Evans late in the preseason. Both Newsome and Harbaugh have expressed their interest in certain free agency as lan B.
With a lot of new pieces being integrated with old faces, the Ravens are already underdogs to repeat its Super Bowl Glory from the previous season.
Despite the pundits’ projections, the team, which is spearheaded under Head Coach John Harbaugh, seems to have maintained the mentality that has earned them a playoff spot in the past five-seasons.
With the ever-present toughness of the AFC North, and the Ravens’ regular season schedule, a tough road awaits the defending champions. The team will need to rectify its vacancies quick in order to solidify themselves as one of the NFL’s top tier teams and earn a playoff berth for the sixth-straight season.