OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A year ago at this time, the Ravens were in the midst of the most trying season in the 20-year history of the franchise with the dark cloud of the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests hanging over their heads.
So you’ll forgive them for relishing the relative peace since three former players — Terrence Cody, Bernard Pierce, and Victor Hampton — were arrested and promptly released early this offseason. The focus was solely on football Thursday as the Ravens officially began training camp with their first full-squad practice.
“We’re happy with it, because last year, it was very uncomfortable,” veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “A lot of us [haven’t] been in that type of situation like that before, but it’s good to come into camp with no major negative storyline concerning us. We’re just ready to get after it. We’re ready to capitalize on things we did great last year and definitively get rid of some of the things we didn’t do so [well].”
This summer, the distractions have been replaced by higher-than-usual expectations for the Ravens despite parting ways with five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, starting receiver Torrey Smith, rush specialist Pernell McPhee, starting tight end Owen Daniels, and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Those losses would have many teams rebuilding and being forced to look toward the future, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are equipped to deal with change immediately after consecutive draft classes that they feel really good about.
The rest of the football world has taken notice with many praising the Ravens’ deep roster and considering them a top contender to win the Super Bowl despite significant personnel changes.
“They do a great job of bringing good guys in and continuing to build the team every year,” said four-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda about the front office. “We try to get better and better. That’s what the Ravens do, and it seems like it this year again. We’re all excited to be out here.”
Of course, many questions must be answered as the Ravens try to replace the aforementioned names with players primarily in their first or second year in the NFL.
How will defensive coordinator Dean Pees mix and match to fill the massive void left behind by Ngata?
Is rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman ready to become Joe Flacco’s new deep threat?
Can new offensive coordinator Marc Tresetman pick up where Kubiak left off a year ago?
Those are just to name a few.
Head coach John Harbaugh’s team will be tested early with five of their first seven regular-season games on the road, the kind of stretch where success could put them in prime position to secure a home playoff game — or better — and failure could create a treacherous climb in the second half of the season to simply make the playoffs.
Why are the Ravens so confident in their rookies and veteran newcomers to pick up the slack left behind by departing players on an annual basis?
Six playoff appearances in the last seven years goes a long way in setting expectations for anyone walking into the building.
“They know what’s expected, because they’ve watched this team in January so much,” Harbaugh said. “I mentioned to [former Ravens linebacker and current scouting intern] Jarret Johnson last night that we’ve had some bad-ass teams around here. That’s what these guys have to understand — what the standard is.”
Even if thankful not to be dealing with the turmoil of last season, returning players — particularly the ones not involved in any off-field transgressions — can take pride in the way they handled the adversity to still go 10-6 and win a playoff game before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Perhaps that memory is one veterans will share with newcomers joining an organization with championship aspirations every year.
But for now, the Ravens are just glad to be back to the business of football with little else entering the conversation.
“When you’re in training camp, it’s tough to think about too many other things,” Flacco said. “I know we had a little bit of a distraction last year, but I thought we did a good job of putting that behind us and taking it for what it was. I guess it’s nice, but I think that [football] was our main concern last year, too.”