Personally, I have high hopes and expectations for the Ravens this season. But then again, when are expectations not high in Baltimore? The success the Ravens have had in their short existence is truly unbelievable. As I said, this season is no different and the Ravens are hoping to make the Super Bowl after reaching the AFC Championship in two of the last four years. But, no team enters a season without question marks.
Can the Ravens young linebackers replace the production of Suggs?
As we all know, Terrell Suggs tore his ACL in the off-season. Because of his injury, linebackers Paul Kruger, Courtney UpShaw, Sergio Kindle, and Albert McClellan must step up. Kruger had a nice season in 2011 but that was when he had Terrell Suggs on the field commanding double teams. Kruger is not alone though. He has the help of some young players but young is the key word. Kindle, UpShaw, and McClellan are all young and unexperienced.
If the Ravens can not produce any pressure, the team will struggle. Pernell McPhee is a defensive lineman to keep an eye on. He was most effective last season when he lined up against guards. Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata will be a deadly combination this season and can occupy blockers which will help the Ravens young linebackers.
Can Torrey Smith have a break out season?
Another way the Ravens can make up for the loss of Terrell Suggs is for the offense to be more productive and the pre-season has looked promising for the offense. Joe Flacco looks much different. He seems more composed and is scanning the field more effectively. His favorite target seems to be Torrey Smith. Smith also looks better. His route running is more polished and he is now more than a down field threat.
If Torrey Smith had an 800-yard season in 2011 by being a down field threat only, immagine what he can do now that he is more polished?
How will the Ravens use Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson?
Bobby Rainey and Deonte Thompson were both stars of the pre-season. They were brought into Ravens camp with little expectations but once they got to camp, they did nothing but perform at a high level. Rainey, a running back out of Western Kentucky has shown a vast skill set throughout the preseason. Rainey can run the ball effectively, catch the ball out of the backfield, he can block, and he can even return punts and kicks. I think Rainey will play a role very similar to how Darren Sproles is used in New Orleans. He is a play maker and the Ravens need as many of them as possible.
Deonte Thompson has also been very impressive in the preseason. Like Raney, Thompson has been effective in multiple areas. He has been explosive at wide receiver and as a kick returner. Thompson has an opportunity to climb the depth chart even more. Players like LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss are ahead of him but Thompson has been more impressive in the preseason. I expect Thompson to be used in multiple situations this season.
Will the special teams improve?
The Ravens are stacked with options to return punts and kicks. Jacoby Jones, Asa Jackson, Deonte Thompson, and Bobby Rainey have all shown flashes of brilliance in the return game but returning punts and kicks is not the problem. The coverage was dreadful last season. To improve the kickoff and punt coverage, the Ravens made several moves in the offseason. Cory Graham, a special teams ace from the Bears is expected to play a big role on special teams this year and possibly on defense. Sean Considine was also signed and is expected to contribute in a big way on special teams.
The special teams coverage did not look good in the preseason but it’s only the preseason. I expect the special teams to be greatly improved from last season.