It has been a roller coaster ride for the fans in Baltimore throughout the entire offseason. Coming off of the Baltimore Ravens second Super Bowl victory in franchise history, there were plenty of difficult decisions and obstacles general manager Ozzie Newsome had to over come. The start of the free agency period did not go in the Ravens favor with Ray Lewis retiring, Ed Reed signing with the Texans, Paul Kruger signing with the Browns and then surprisingly Dannell Ellerbe signing with the Miami Dolphins. That move came as a shocker to most people because it was one of the Ravens top priorities to resign Ellerbe to be Ray Lewis’ replacement. With some of those key losses, there was a sense of panic and uncertainty with the future of the Ravens in the eyes of the fans. Newsome did make some solid signings early with the addition of defensive linemen Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, but the turning point with this offseason came in Denver. After one of the most bizarre free agency stories ever in the history of the NFL, Elvis Dumervil became available on the free agent market with a faxing mishap by his agent to the Denver front office. Ozzie Newsome shocked the football world by signing Dumervil to the Ravens, especially when the Broncos made a strong push to still bring him back. The Ravens finished up free agency nicely with the additions of Michael Huff and veteran linebacker Daryl Smith. Where Ozzie Newsome also exceeded was in the 2013 NFL Draft, where the Ravens first two picks were Matt Elam, a safety from Florida, and Arthur Brown, a linebacker from Kansas State. Both of these players were considered first round caliber talents and Newsome managed to get both within the first two rounds of the draft. With so much panic at the start of the offseason for the Ravens, there is now so much promise because of the work Ozzie Newsome had done throughout the whole offseason. It is not all about how you start, it is about how you finish and the best general manager in the league certainly proved that with his work during free agency and the draft.
With so many additions to the team coming off of a Super Bowl victory, what are the expectations for the Ravens? What can be certain is the Ravens defense is now back to dominant form. This franchise for so long has been known for their defense and with the additions made, that identity will be coming back. The Ravens arguably have the best pass-rushing duo in the league with a now fully healthy Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. This could potentially be the best pass-rushing duo in Ravens history as well. The front seven unit is one of the premier strengths of this team still with Haloti Ngata, Courtney Upshaw, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Suggs, Dumervil and Brown. The biggest question mark with this defense is now the secondary. Huff is a real solid safety and Elam has serious talent coming out of the university of Florida. It will just take time for the rookie to get experience by playing so eventually the defense wont have to suffer due to “rookie mistakes.” Lardarius Webb returns back from injury this season and he is the best player in the secondary. The biggest concern is at the second corner back position with Jimmy Smith. He has not live up to expectations since he was drafted in the first round out of Colorado. If he can stay healthy and live up to the hype he once had, this defense’s potential is through the roof.
On the offensive side of the ball, the leader is Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Now with the hefty contract, expectations are high for Baltimore’s quarterback. There is slight concern with the passing game this season with the loss of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, but the Ravens still have good pieces all around. They have Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The fans might expect a pass happy offense with Flacco now being the big name of this offense, but I think differently. The Ravens kept the offensive line in tact by bringing back Bryant McKinnie, so the running game could be the biggest focus of this offense. They have one of the best running backs in the league in Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce showed how great of a contributor he could be in his rookie campaign. This running back duo in Baltimore is amongst one of the tops in the NFL.
With all that has happened this offseason, there is some question where do the Baltimore Ravens rank when it comes to making a return trip to the Super Bowl. The Ravens are one of the favorites once again. They have made great moves when needed and additions to help replace holes across the team. Denver is the favorite out of the AFC with some of the moves they have made, but Baltimore is right behind them. And as we have seen with the Ravens and Broncos in recent history, Baltimore knows how to frustrate Denver and take them off of their number one high horse spot. Could history repeat again? We will see a preview on opening night in the NFL in the mile high stadium.