Reporting Mike Popovec
I have to admit with the success of the Ravens over the last five years, it has become tough at times to find many chinks in the armor in terms of how the organization has constituted its roster. Now player performance and coach’s decisions are always scrutinized and analyzed during the season but the proof is in the pudding that in the last few years. Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and the entire staff have put together rosters to compete for Super Bowl’s. It speaks of a well rounded team in all three phases of the game but also one that has quality depth. That is an unbelievably impressive feat when you think about it. Ironically the 2012 roster besieged by injuries, especially defensively, ends up winning it all. I personally think the 2011 team and to a lesser extent the 2010 were better teams and one of those two seasons should have won the Super Bowl. The 2011 team of course got darn near close to getting to the big game in early 2012.
So here we are now in May of 2013 coming off Free Agency and the Draft and yet again the Ravens have seemingly put together a roster that can compete and go far into the playoffs. That is not to say they are done but a good bit of work has already been accomplished. The Elvis Dumervil signing was certainly one of partial luck given the Fax Gate situation but what people fail to realize or point out is if the Ravens had not made the tough decisions to part ways with the likes of Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard and others to get better for the future they would not have had the salary cap money to give themselves a chance at Dumervil. Their tough decisions all in the name of getting younger, faster and better put them in a very favorable situation whether they had signed Dumervil or not. They had set themselves up to be able to accomplish their goal. DL Chris Canty and Marcus Spears offer veteran depth and a bridge to the future. FS Michael Huff I believe has some real good years left him and will thrive with the Ravens thanks to his versatility next to his likely new co-hort in the secondary, Matt Elam.
Now after the NFL Draft, the Ravens are getting high grades not just locally but from the national media. Matt Elam embodies the Raven way on defense with hard hitting blows, solid tackling and an ability to cover ground much better at SS than Bernard Pollard could in his two years. Elam reminds you of a younger Ed Reed who many forget could come up and wreak havoc in the box in the run game and blitzing the QB. ILB Arthur Brown has similar traits to Ray Lewis being slightly under sized but a guy that is a tireless worker, a sideline to sideline chaser that is a tackling machine with excellent leadership skills. Brandon Williams seems like a real solid DT that will add to the rotation and brings a strong motor with him. John Simon is also a tireless worker that is versatile in getting after the passer and in pass coverage. He will help contribute to a solid OLB rotation and on Special Teams. Mike Vrabel who had a real good career in the NFL and one of the best college coaches in Urban Meyer rave about Simon.
Wagner and Jensen add solid OL depth and Lewis-Moore has promise as a solid run stopping 5 technique once he gets healthy which probably will not be until 2014.
Kyle Juszczyk will continue to help the offense evolve in being versatile with all the different spots he can play—FB, H-Back and slot TE/Receiver role. He will enable the Ravens to go no huddle out of different sets with the same personnel on the field.
We shall see what Mellette and Anthony do, who knows they could surprise.
Yes, the Ravens still have work to do at Left Tackle. I am completely against Michael Oher or Kelechi Osemele at LT. Osemele is definitely best served at LG and I think the Ravens truly know that after seeing the job he did when he moved inside last year. It’s great that he can fill in at RT if need be but I think its fair to say it would likely be Michael Oher all over again with Osemele at LT. Other than his long arms which help he is better on the inside as many scouts said last year.
The Ravens though have lots of time between now and the start of the season. They have already signed a few UFA Tackles. You never know, one of those undrafted free agents may rise to the top (and the Ravens have had a lot of luck with UFA’s mostly at LB but still they have a knack here for finding the talent). There are still cuts other teams could make, left over Free Agents like Bryant McKinney and even though the possibility remote, a trade. The Ravens know they need to protect Joe Flacco and now more than ever, not only with the money invested in him but also they saw with just a little more time and confidence in the pass protection he was able to up his production and make better throws.
I know many are curious to see what the Ravens do at WR. Look anybody replacing Anquan Boldin would have big shoes to fill whether it was next year or the year after. It just so happens the year came earlier than expected. I think the Ravens feel they can make up for his production by committee or they feel there is someone that can adequately cover a fair amount of the production that Boldin had here in town. Look Boldin is a special, special player so there would be and will be a drop off. That does not mean his replacement still cannot be good. Most folks are feeling pretty good about Elam, Huff and Brown filling roles of some pretty memorable players by the names of Lewis and Reed.
I truly think Ed Dickson can be a real wild card here. If he can step up and display consistent hands then we could have ourselves a blue collar version of Gronkowski and Hernandez. If Deonte Thompson develops they could move Jacoby Jones inside to add that run after the catch ability or a combination of Jones, Doss (I think people have given up way too quickly on Doss and forget the career he had at Indiana), Dickson, Reed and maybe Mallette. Let us not forget Dennis Pitta who can be a Boldin of sorts in the slot as well and very well could be used there as his replacement. It’s who lines up in the other slot is the question in four wide sets or in three wide sets when Pitta is used in the backfield for protection and then release or when he is on the line. There are several scenarios and it will have to play itself out, however the Ravens have a lot of options, unproven yes but they will get their opportunity. Don’t forget about Rice and Pierce. The Ravens are not abandoning the run and the last I checked Rice is pretty damn good in the pass game.
The bottom line is once again this will be an offense that can run and pass which means they can attack you in multiple ways, which means they are not one dimensional. On defense this looks like a team that once again will be staunch against the run and will be much better getting after the passer and aiding pass defense. Outside of an aging Brendan Ayanbadejo who was cut, special teams looks like it will be once again solid with the likes of Jones, Reed, Considine, Jackson, Brown, Allen and more all back. You would be hard pressed on paper (and that is all it is at this point is on paper yes) but it’s hard not to like this roster being near ready for continued Ravens success.