With the Baltimore Ravens’ brass giving their annual "State of the Ravens" conference on Wednesday, Ozzie Newsome and Co. were able to discuss their plans for the off-season. From the season ending loss, to salary cap scenarios, GM Ozzie Newsome and Owner Steve Bisciotti answered questions and gave their outlook for the Ravens heading into next season.
One of the issues brought up and discussed was what the Ravens need to do from a personnel stand-point to get over the "hump" and into the Super Bowl. When this question was raised, Ozzie Newsome had this to say:
"I think you have to start with the offensive line. We were able to get 'Big Mac' [Bryant McKinnie] in here late in August and get him to play. He played every snap on the offensive side of the ball, which is incredible. We are going to have to build on the offensive line. I think we will still build at the receiver spot. I think we'll work there. And, you don't ever have enough pass rushers. So, if that guy is there, we'll entertain that also."
So, as of right now, Ozzie Newsome has his priorities set as: offensive line, wide receivers, and pass rushers, in that order. The question now becomes: how does the team go about filling its needs by balancing salaries, chances of retirements, and rookies or young players that are ready to become fulltime starters?
Starting with the offensive line as priority number one, there are several scenarios that could take place. With uncertainties concerning Ben Grubbs’ free agent status and Matt Birk’s possible retirement, the offensive line could face a major overhaul this offseason. If Birk does decide to retire, Andre Gurode could prove to be the stop-gap needed at the center position to maintain some extra continuity between the offensive line and quarterback Joe Flacco. Gurode proved this year that he is an asset and is versatile enough to play at a guard position out of his natural center spot as well. It is also a possibility that Ozzie Newsome could draft a center such as Wisconsin’s, Peter Konz, who many are projecting to land where the Ravens pick 29th overall this year. Perhaps the worst case scenario would be that Birk decides to retire and Grubbs leaves in free agency. The Ravens could draft a center to be the starter immediately, and shift Gurode to play guard in Ben Grubbs’ absence. If worst comes to worst, that’s not that bad of a situation and it could be a lot worse. Luckily, the Ravens have done a great job at assembling versatile players and great depth each year.
According to Ozzie Newsome, the second priority will be building more at the wide receiver position. With Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith cemented as the two starting wide outs heading into next season, some mystery still surrounds the third and even fourth starting spots. Known as an organization that keeps its cards close to its chest, it’s hard to speculate whether or not the Ravens are targeting any receivers in the up coming draft or if they plan to build from within. Currently, the Ravens have veteran Lee Evans signed through next season, but it’s not clear if they will decide to keep him on board along with the hefty cap number he brings. Evans could be a candidate to restructure and come back at a reduced price and prove why the Ravens spent a 4th round draft pick on him. Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams are both waiting in the wings to get their shots on offense and Williams has done a superb job on the Special Teams unit. If Evans does not return next season, perhaps the Ravens will target a speedy deep threat receiver in the draft that matches their plan to throw deep and often.
It’s kind of become an unofficial Baltimore Ravens football motto: you can never have enough pass rushers. Every year it seems as though the Ravens look to acquire as many pass rush specialists as possible and it seems to be paying dividends. Under ex-defensive corrdinator, Chuck Pagano’s, ultra aggressive scheme this season, the Ravens amassed 48 sacks in the regular season. With guys like Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee, and Haloti Ngata all returning the Ravens’ pass rush should remain dominant. Throw in players like Sergio Kindle, Paul Kruger, and Michael McAdoo and the already stellar pass rush could become even more ferocious. Expect the Ravens to pick up a couple more guys either through the draft of free agency this year that could also contribute as this is an organization that can never have enough pass rush specialists.
Other than the positions listed by Ozzie Newsome that he feels need upgrading, I would like to add kick returner and possibly linebackers and safeties to the list. With cornerback, Lardarius Webb, becoming an All-Pro caliber player, it could be a good idea to find a permanent solution for kick and punt returns to add an extra spark to the overall team, and with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis towards the tail end of their careers, there could be a possibility of drafting some guys to study behind both of the Ravens’ all- time greats for at least a year.
Please share what you believe to be the biggest need for the Ravens heading into next season in the comments section!