#10 – Suring up at Safety – While not a position of urgent need for the Ravens, safety isn’t without its questions. Dawan Landry’s impending free agency and Ed Reed’s present state of health could have the team relying heavily on Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski for critical stretches of this season. As they seem to have greater needs elsewhere it seems unlikely that the team would spend heavily to retain Landry and will take their chances with whomever the market may bear behind Reed, Nakamura and Zbikowski. Historically the Ravens have done well with finding safeties that others haven’t seen value in.
#9 – Finding a Tight End – The release of Todd Heap leaves the team with a gaping hole at the tight end position, and like safety could have them relying on a couple of unproven players for big contributions in 2011. In this case that pursuit might be even more ambitious as both Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are entering only their second seasons and neither found a major niche in the offense last year. It seems the team has designs on re-signing Heap if possible but otherwise would likely have to turn to the open market for a more reliable answer at TE than Pitta or Dickson look to provide. Absent that, the team might be forced to their 2008 form with little reliance on the TE position as anything but an extra blocker at the line of scrimmage.
#8 – Backing Up Ray Rice – While the release of Willis McGahee wasn’t much of a surprise on Monday, it leaves the Ravens with a number of unanswered questions in the backfield. Can they trust rookie Anthony Allen to be ready to back up Rice if needed? Are they prepared to go with some combination of Jalen Parmalee and Matt Lawrence at the backup if Allen isn’t up to the task without prep time? If Le’Ron McClain returns will he do so as the full time fullback? Do the Ravens want him otherwise? Will the bounty of free agents and the unwillingness of teams to pay them leave the Ravens with good options to choose from when the dust settles?
#7 – Backing Up Flacco – If Marc Bulger’s presence on last year’s squad indicated anything at all, it may have been that the Ravens envisioned themselves so close to competing for a title, that they refused to allow themselves to be in a position where a single injury could derail those hopes (even if that injury comes at the most important position on the field). If Bulger finds greener pastures elsewhere, surely the Ravens will be looking for more credible options than Tyrod Taylor or Hunter Cantwell. Hopefully it’s a need that never comes to fruition as the season plays out, but one that must be accounted for nonetheless.
#6 – Sorting out the Cornerbacks – After the Ravens’ forcible defection of talent on Monday and given their apparent desire to retain some of those players, but at a better price; is it out of the realm of possibility that Domonique Foxworth, coming off of an ACL tear, may also be carrying a price tag that’s tough to justify? Additionally see these 10 cornerback questions.
#5 – Sorting Out the Wide Receivers – The release of Derrick Mason certainly shakes up the receiving hierarchy in Baltimore for 2011 if the Ravens are unable to compel him back. If not they’re left with a bunch of unproven commodities behind Anquan Boldin. That might make the retention of a guy like TJ Houshmandzadeh suddenly much more realistic than it seemed just a few days ago. Whatever the outcomes with Mason and/or Houshmandzadeh, the Ravens will still need a proven field stretcher to compliment Boldin and whomever else rounds out the receiving corps, and it appears that through free agency they’ll have no shortage of candidates to choose from.
#4 – Prepping for Pittsburgh – Getting the Steelers, in Baltimore, right out of the gate might be just what the doctor ordered for a team likely still smarting from playoff disappointment at the hands of their rivals. While a win in week one won’t put the rivalry back into balance or even mean much if the Steelers again rain on the Ravens’ post-season hopes, it may mean a great deal in determining where a potential third meeting between the clubs would be played and will probably mean the difference between a big boost or a big letdown to set the tone for the 2011 campaign.
#3 – Getting Defensive Line Help – The Ravens appear ready to unleash Terrance Cody on the league to compliment the man-mountain that is Haloti Ngata in the middle of the defensive line, and at present have 2 young and interesting commodities backing them up in Kelly Talavou and Arthur Jones, but they’ll still need help in developing a much needed edge rush. At present the Ravens list only 2 defensive ends on their roster, rookie Pernell McPhee and 2nd year Albert McClellan. Unless they’re expecting huge contributions from Paul Kruger and/or Sergio Kindle to compliment Suggs in 2011 it would seem that upgrades are in order. I’ll bet on the latter.
#2 – Suring Up the Right Side of the Offensive Line – Matt Birk is aging, and everything to his right is a question mark. Did Jared Gaither miss last season by pouting or with a legitimate back injury? In either case can you put any faith in him moving forward? Will Marshall Yanda get tackle money in free agency? Should the Ravens pay him tackle money? What can you expect from Oneil Cousins, Jah Reid, or Ramon Harewood in 2011? Should the Ravens look to pursue a left tackle and move Michael Oher back to the right side? Answering these questions will probably be the biggest determining factor in the Ravens’ success or lack thereof this season.
#1 – Coming Up With a New Slogan – If John Harbaugh wasn’t having such success as an NFL coach in his 3-year tenure with the Ravens, one might suggest he pursue a career in marketing. In addition to his knack for having his teams ready to play from week to week, Harbaugh has also shown a knack for getting them up to play through the week to week grind of NFL football. From “Play Like a Raven” to the Muhammad Ali inspired “What’s Our Name”, from the inspirational story of Nehemiah to the recognition of Baltimore’s “53 Mighty Men” Harbaugh has never seemingly been at a loss for a poignant theme or reference. It’s fair to say that players and fans alike have been waiting with baited breath to hear this year’s Harbaugh-ism. Given his biblical affinity and his Thanksgiving Day opponent, I might suggest an infamous tale from Genesis.