Ravens roster turnover primes them for run at repeat

July 07, 2013 | Max Buchdahl

There’s no way they can win. Too many stars have left the team. With all these lost players, the Ravens won’t even make the playoffs. Super Bowl repeat? They would be lucky to finish with a winning record.

Since the Ravens roster unloading process, we’ve heard all of this time and time again, both locally and nationally. Nonetheless, for the last five months, Ravens players and fans alike have been reeling off of the Ravens Super Bowl victory in New Orleans. When someone tries any sort of  trash-talk, there seems to be only one appropriate response:

Who won the Super Bowl again? That’s right, the Ravens did.

Well, we are now less than three weeks away from the start of a Super-Bowl defending training camp for our men in purple and black. When they go to work for that repeat, the faces we don’t see under those helmets will be entirely different than those from the Ravens playoff run last winter.

Of the 90 total players now on the Ravens roster, thirty-six were not here when the Ravens went on their magical purple carpet ride. That roster turnover has almost never before been seen by a defending Super Bowl champion.

Ozzie Newsome has gone out and replaced the likes of  lost defenders Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger with less expensive, more experienced players such as Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens were able to add Canty and Dumervil for nearly the same value as Kruger’s deal with the Browns alone.

Not only did Ozzie work his magic to get bang for his buck, he also may be in the process of successfully avoiding the one term every reigning Super Bowl champion doesn’t want to hear: hangover.

The Super Bowl hangover so loudly recognized by Michael Strahan has been corroborated by the eight-year streak without back-to-back champions. Most teams over the past eight years have remained mostly the same the following year. Maybe by unloading many of last year’s starters, the Ravens brass has the right recipe in place to go after another Lombardi Trophy.

But of the returning faces from last year’s Super Bowl run, there are still many interesting storylines to follow as training camp approaches.

The first involves RB Bernard Pierce, who is entering his 2nd NFL season. A third-round draft pick out of Temple in 2012, Pierce was expected to act as relief for Ray Rice sporadically throughout games. But the former Owl refused to sit on the bench as his team went on its historic run. Pierce’s hard-nosed running style and ability to accelerate when he gets to the outside makes him an ideal post-season back, as he rushed for over 200 yards and five yards per carry in the Ravens’ four playoff games last year.

It seems as if Pierce will act as more of a complement than a backup to Rice this year. The specifics of that role, however, will not be known until we see how the two work together throughout the pre-season.

Another issue is that of replacing Anquan Boldin, whose four touchdowns and nearly 400 receiving yards during the Super Bowl run made him Joe Flacco’s most reliable target. After seemingly not adding anyone through the draft or free agency to step in this year with Boldin’s skill set, it is likely that he will be replaced by a committee of Dennis Pitta, Tandon Doss, and Jacoby Jones. Pitta is becoming Flacco’s favorite target, and could be used in the wide receiver slot if Ed Dickson has a bigger role as a pass-catching tight end. Last year, Dickson’s role included less catching and more blocking.

Third-year receiver Tandon Doss didn’t endear himself to Ravens fans last year with his three dropped passes in the Wild Card Round against the Colts. The hope is that Doss has worked harder during the offseason in anticipation of a larger role in the offense in the coming year. The fourth-round pick out of Indiana has seven career catches, all coming in 2012. At the very least, he’ll double those numbers next year.

Jacoby Jones is an interesting option on offense, especially given his success on special teams. It’s possible that John Harbaugh decides to make Jones exclusively a special-teamer at the beginning of the year. But with injuries being inevitable in this game, it would be shocking if this Ravens celebrity doesn’t have a role in the offense at some point in 2013.

Another intriguing headline facing John Harbaugh’s squad is the Ravens new-look pass rush. After last year’s defense fell eleven sacks short of their total from 2011, the Ravens went out and got Elvis Dumervil, who has had double-digit sack seasons in three of his last five NFL seasons. Dumervil will be complemented by 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, whose achilles injury forced him to miss half of last season. With Elvis in the building in Owings Mills, the Ravens pass rush should be back to intimidating the opposing quarterback.

The Ravens linebacking corps will also have some new faces, and will appear especially green without Ray Lewis as their leader. Veteran LB Jameel McClain, who missed the entirety of 2012 with a spinal cord contusion, is expected to be ready to go in September. McClain is now a leader on this Ravens defense, especially with Suggs spending the majority of his snaps in pass rush instead of pass coverage. McClain will be joined in pass coverage by veteran LB Daryl Smith, who the Ravens inked to a deal this offseason.

For the Ravens secondary, it’s all about new opportunities. James Ihedigbo, a backup safety for most of last season, will likely compete for a starting job with the losses of Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed. Ihedigbo will be challenged by free-agent addition Michael Huff, a former All-Pro safety for the Raiders. The other newcomer to the Ravens secondary is 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam. Elam has been described by scouts as a hard-nosed defender who can also perform on special teams. For Elam, training camp will be yet another opportunity to prove to coaches and fans alike that he has what it takes to start for the most feared defense of the last decade.

When the Ravens hit the field in Denver to begin their defense of the Lombardi in September, the guys you see making the catches and tackles may not be the ones you are used to. But don’t fear, those thirty-six new faces will come with the hunger and drive to get a ring that the other fifty-six no longer have. They may even be able to keep the returning champions focused on going after a second ring. When it’s all said and done, the 2013 Baltimore Ravens will be primed for another run at a championship.