As the long, cold months of the NFL’s lock-out came to a sudden halt last year, fans of each franchise around the country suddenly became inundated with a flurry of news and activity, especially fans of the Baltimore Ravens. Almost overnight, the complexion of the Ravens had changed. News was coming in from all directions that the Ravens had released veterans, and fan favorites, Todd Heap and Derrick Mason.
Last off-season, arguably, the Raven’s receiving group saw the most overturn on the entire roster. Long time Ravens, Todd Heap and Derrick Mason, were let go whom many considered to be quarterback, Joe Flacco’s, biggest "security blankets". With only second year tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson looking to fill Heap’s rather large shoes, and then rookie wide-out, Torrey Smith, looking to immediately take over the #2 wide-out role behind Anquan Boldin, nerves began to run high in regards to the young Ravens offense that was faced with an off-season in which organized team practices would be few and far between.
It’s a natural process in the NFL these days, no one team will always be the same from the year before. New faces will come in from the draft and free agency, while some who are currently with a particular team may decide to take their services to another franchise, or even step away from the game altogether.
Follow along after the "Jump" to see which Ravens offensive position could see the most change this off-season.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Most of the major overhaul to these groups came last year. Both Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are cemented as the future tight end tandem for the Ravens, with the only controversy being: which one of these two should see the field more often? With very different skill sets, these two promising tight ends could eventually combine to become one of the best tandems in the league. While some favor the athleticism and dynamic ability of Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta had a very strong season flashing great hands and the ability to catch almost anything thrown his way. In my book, having to decide which of these two tight ends to have on the field at any given time is a very good problem to have.
In the wide receivers camp, the only thing that’s certain thus far is that Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith look to be the clear #1 and #2 wide-outs heading into next season. Although Lee Evans is under contract through next season, many speculate that in order for the team to retain his services he may be asked to take a slight pay cut this off-season, or perhaps be let go altogether. If the Ravens find themselves without a 3rd wide receiver, the team has a few options: Last year’s 4th round pick, Tandon Doss, was praised for having phenomenal hands coming out of college, and could prove to be a difference maker in an offense that was plagued by dropped passes all season long. LaQuan Williams, the former un-drafted free agent out of Maryland, has proven his worth as an excellent special teams contributor and will look to fight his way into the starting wide-outs lineup this off-season. If the Ravens still feel they need a fresh face, there will be an abundance of quality talent in this years NFL draft as well as free agency to choose from.
Running Back: On the heels of Ricky Williams’ retirement announcement, questions are now focusing on who will step in to become Ray Rice’s back up. 2011 7th round pick, Anthony Allen, could prove to be a capable back-up running back to Rice. At 6-0 230 lbs, Allen could be able to fill the void left by Williams as a bigger, bruising, short yardage running back. Although its not much to go off of, Allen posted 11 carries for 75 yards (6.8 yards per carry average) and 1 touchdown in limited pre-season play this year. Should the Ravens look outside of their own roster to fill the back-up running back role, there will be plenty of options for the Ravens to mull over within this years free agent class. Some options that could fit into the role the Ravens are looking for would be: Mike Tolbert (San Diego), Peyton Hillis (Cleveland), and perhaps even former Ravens FB, LeRon McClain (Kansas City).
Offensive Line: With guard Ben Grubb’s impending free agent status, and the potential retirement of 14 year veteran center, Matt Birk, the offensive line has the possibility to see the most change this off-season. Should Birk retire, the Ravens have veteran back-up center, Andre Gurode, to possibly fall back on as well as the prospect of drafting a rookie center in the up-coming NFL draft. Grubbs has been an essential key in the Ravens offense as a great run blocker for Ray Rice and his absence would surely be felt. It is still possible that the Ravens could place the franchise tag on Grubbs which would keep him in Baltimore until a long-term contract could be hammered out, but with Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, and many others looking for their big contracts, it’s unclear where Grubbs would sit as a priority for the Ravens’ front office. Should Grubbs leave in free agency, it’s un-clear how the Ravens would address the big void he would leave behind.
Even though some of the inevitable changes to the Ravens are coming, one thing is for sure: general manager, Ozzie Newsome, and those that surround him to make up the Ravens’ front office, are some of the best in the entire NFL. They have always done a brilliant job at filling the roster with talented players for the right price. Expect "The Wizard" and his colleagues to make a few exceptional moves this off-season in both the draft and free agency that will surely help improve the Ravens.
Which position do you think will see the most change heading into next season, and how will the Ravens fill out the roster for 2012?